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Ti/fY Dear Dr. Meyerfeld, — It is a great 
•^ ' '*■ pleasure to dedicate this new edition of 
De Profundis to yourself. But for you I do not 
think the hook would have ever been published. 
When first you asked me about the manuscript which 
you heard Wilde wrote in prison, I explained to you 
vaguely that some day I hoped to issue portions of 
it, in accordance with the writer's wishes ; though I 
thought it would be premature to do so at that 
moment. You begged, however, that Germany (which 
already held Wilde's plays in the highest esteem) 
should have the opportimity of seeing a new work 
by one of her favourite authors. I rather re- 
luctantly consented to your proposal ; and promised^ 
at a leisured opportunity, to extract such portions of 
the work as ?mgIU be considered of general public 
interest. I fear that I postponed what was to me a 

^ First included in Thirteenth Edition for the volume of 
uniform works in 14 vols. 



rather painful task ; it tvas only your visits and more 
importunate correspondence (of which frankly I 
began to hate the sight) that brought about the 
fulfilment of your object. There tvas no idea of 
issuing the work in England ; but after despatching 
to you a copy for translation in Die Neue 
Rundschau, it occurred to me that a simultaneous 
publication of the original might gratify Wilde^s 
English friends and admirers who Iiad expressed 
curiosity on the subject. The decision mas not 
reached without some misgiving, for reasons which 
need only be touched upon here, Wilde's name un- 
fortunately did not bring very agreeable memories 
to English ears : his literary position, hardly recog- 
nised even in the zenith of his successful dramatic 
career, had come to be ignored by Mr. Ruskin's 
countrymen, unable to separate the man and the 
artist; how rightly or wrongly it is not for me to 
say. In Germany and France, where tolerance and 
literary enthusiasm are more widely distributed, 
Wilde's works were judged independently of the. 
author's career. Salom6, prohibited by the English 
censor in the author's lifetime, had become part of 
the repertoire of the European stage, long before 


thaljinest of all his dramas inspired the great opera 
of Dr. Strauss; whilst the others^ performed 
occasionally in the English provinces without his 
name, were still banned in the London theatres. 
His great intellectual endowments were either denied 
or forgotten. Wilde (who in De Profundis ex- 
aggerates his lost contemporary position in England 
and shows no idea of his future European reputation) 
gauges fairly accurately the nadir he had reached 
when he says that his name was become a synonym 
for folly. 

In sending copy to Messrs. Methuen (to whom 
alone I submitted it) I anticipated refusal, as though 
the work were my own. A very distinguished man 
of letters who acted as their reader advised, however, 
its acceptance, and urged, in view of the uncertainty 
of its reception, the excision of certain passages, to 
which I readily assented. Since there has been a 
demand to see these passages, already issued in 
German, they are here replaced along with others of 
minor importance. I have added besides some of 
those letters written to me from Reading, which 
though they were brought out by you in Germany, I 


did not, at first, contemplate publishing in this 
country. They illustrate Wilde's varying moods in 
prison. Owing to a foolish error in transcription, 
I sent you these letters with wrong dates — dates of 
other unpublished letters. The error is here rectified. 
By the courtesy of the editor and the proprietors of 
the Daily Clironicle / have included the two re- 
markable contributions to their paper on the subject 
of prison life : these and The Ballad of Reading 
Gaol being all that Wilde wrote after his release, 
other than private correspondence. The generous 
reception accorded to De Profundis has justified 
the preparation of a new and fuller edition. The 
most sanguine hopes have been realised; English 
critics have shown themselves ready to estimate the 
writer, whether favourably or unfavourably, without 
emphasising their natural prejudice against his later 
career, even in reference to this book where the two 
things occasion synchronous comment. The work 
has met of course with some severe criticisms, chiefly 
from 'narrow natures and hectic-brains.' 

But in justice to the author and myself there are 
two points which I ought to make clear: the title 
De Profundis, against which some have cavilled, is, 


as you tvill remember from our correspondence, my 
onm ; for this I do not make any apology. Then, 
certain people (among others a well-known French 
writer) have paid jne the compliment of suggesting 
that the text was an entire forgery by myself or 
a cento of Wilde's tellers to myself Were I 
capable either of the requisite art, or the requisite 
fraud, I should have made a name in literature ere 
now. I need say here only that De Profundis is a 
manuscript of eighty close-written pages on twenty 
folio sheets ; that it is cast in the form of a letter to 
a friend not myself j that it was written at intervals 
during the last six months of the author s imprison- 
ment on blue stamped prison foolscap paper. Re- 
ference to it and directions in regard to it occur in 
the letters addressed to myself and printed in this 
volume. Wilde handed me the document on the day 
of his release ; he was not allowed to send it to me 
from prison. With the exception of Major Nelson, 
then Governor of Reading Gaol, myself, and a 
confidential typewriter, no one has read the whole of 
it. Contrary to a general impression, it contains 
nothing scandalous. There is no definite scheme or 
plan in the work ; as he proceeded the writer's inten- 


tion obviously and constantly changed ; it is de- 
sultory; a large portion of it is taken up milh 
business arid private mailers of no interest whatever. 
The manuscript has, however, been seen and 
authenticated by yourself, by Mr. Methuen, and by 
Mr. Hamilton Fyfe, when editor of the Daily 
Mirror, where a leaf of it was facsimiled. 

Editorial egoism has led me to make tJds intro- 
duction longer than was intended, but I must answer 
one question: both you and other friends have 
asked why I do not write any life of Wilde. I can 
give you two reasons : I am not capable of doing 
so ; and Mr. Robert Sherard has ably supplied the 
deficiency. Mr. Sherard's book contains all the 
important facts of his career; the errors are of 
minor importaTicCt except in regard to certain 
gallant exaggerations about myself. His view of 
Wilde, however, is not MT view, especially in 
reference to the author's unhappiness after his 
release. That Wilde suffered at times from extreme 
poverty and intensely from social ostracism I know 
very well; but his temperament was essentially a 
happy one, and I think his good spirits and enjoy- 
ment of life far outweighed any bitter recollections 


or realisation of an equivocal and tragic position. 
No doubt he felt the latter keenly, but he concealed 
his feeling as a general rule, and his manifestations 
of it lasted 07ily a very few days. He was, however, 
a man with many facets to his character; and he 
left in regard to that character, and to his attain- 
ments, both before and after his downfall, curiously 
different impressioTis on professing judges of 
their fellowmen. To give the whole man would 
require the art of Boswell, Purcell or Robert 
Browning. My friend Mr. Sherard will, J think, 
claim only the biographical genius of Dr. Johnson; 
and I, scarcely the talent of Theophrastus. — Believe 
me, dear Dr. Meyerfeld, yours very truly, 

Robert Ross 
Reform Club 

August Qlst, 1907 


Letter T 

10th March 1896. 

MY Dear RonuiE, — I waiit you to have a 
letter written at once to Mr. the 

solicitor, stating that as my wife has promised to 
settle a third on me, in the case of her prede- 
ceasing me, I do not wish any opposition to be 
made to her purchasing my life interest. I feel 
that I have brought such unhappiness on her, 
and such ruin on my children, that I have no 
right to go against her wishes in anything. She 
was gentle and good to me here, when she came 
to see me. I have full trust in her. Please 
have this done at once, and thank my friends 
for their kindness. I feel I am acting rightly 
leaving this to my wife. 

Please write to Stuart Merrill in Paris, or 
Robert Sherard, to say how gratified I was at the 
performance of my play, and have my thanks 


conveyed to Lugne-Poe:* it is something that 
at a time of disgrace and shame I should be still 
regarded as an artist : I wish I could feel more 
pleasure, but I seem dead to all emotions except 
those of anguish and despair. However, please 
let Lugne-Poe know that I am sensible of the 
honour he has done me. He is a poet himself. 
I fear you will find it difficult to read this, but 
as I am not allowed writing materials I seem to 
have forgotten how to write — you must excuse 
me. Thank More for exerting himself for 
books; unluckily I suffer from headaches when 
I read my Greek and Roman poets — so they 
have not been of much use — but his kindness 
was great in getting the set. Ask him to 
express my gratitude to the lady who lives at 
Wimbledon. Write to me please in answer to 
(this, and tell me about literature, what new 
books, etc. — also Jones's play and Forbes- 
Robertson's management : — about any new 
tendency in the stage of Paris or London. Also 
try and see what Lemaftre, Bauer, and Sarcey 

1 The first impersonator of Herod and first producer of 
Saiomi io Paris. 1896. 


said of Salom^, and give me a little resumi', 

please write to Henri Bauer^ and say I am 

touched at his writing nicely; Robert; Sherard 

knows him. It was sweet of you to come and 

see me You must come again next time. 

Here I have the horror of death with the still 

greater horror of living, and in silence and 

misery. . . . 


I always remember you with deep affection. 
I wish Ernest would get from Oakley Street 
my portmanteau, fur coat, clothes, and the 
books of my own writing which I gave my dear 
mother — ask ... in whose name the burial 
ground of my mother was taken. 
Always your friend, 

Oscar Wilde 

Letter II 

H.M. Prison, Readino, 

after September 1896 [n.d.]. 

, . . To these purely business matters, per- 

1 The hiatus here ia due to the scissors of Major Isacson, 
then Governor of Reading Gaol. He was succeeded by 
Major Nelson. 


haps More Adey will kindly reply. His letter 
dealing purely with business, I shall be allowed 
to receive. It will not, I mean, interfere with 
your literary letter, with regard to which the 
Governor has just now read me your kind 

For myself, my dear Robbie, I have little to 
say that can please you. The refusal to com- 
mute my sentence has been like a blow from 
a leaden sword. I am dazed with a dull sense 
of pain. I had fed on hope, and now anguish, 
grown hungry, feeds her fill on me as though 
she had been starved of her proper appetite. 
There are, however, kinder elements in this 
evil prison air than before : sympathies have 
been shown to me, and I no longer feel entirely 
isolated from humane influences, which was 
before a source of terror and trouble to me. 
And I read Dante, and make excerpts and 
notes for the pleasure of using a pen and ink. 
And it seems as if I were better in many ways, 
and I am going to take up the study of German. 
Indeed, prison seems to be the proper place for 
such a study. There is a thorn, however — as 


bitter as that of St. Paul, though different — that 
I must pluck out of ray flesh in this letter. It 
is caused by a message you wrote on a piece of 
paper for me to see. I feel that if I kept it 
secret it might grow in my mind (as poisonous 
things grow in the dark) and take its place with 
other terrible thoughts that gnaw me. . . 
Thought, to those that sit alone and silent and 
in bonds, being no 'winged living thing/ as 
Plato feigned it, but a thing dead, breeding 
what is horrible like a slime that shows monsters 
to the moon. 

I mean, of course, what you said about the 
sympathies of others being estranged from me, 
or in danger of being so, by the deep bitterness 
of my feelings : and I believe that my letter 
was lent and shown to others. . . . Now, I 
don't like my letters shown about as curiosities : 
it is most distasteful to me. I write to you 
freely as to one of the dearest friends I have, 
or have ever had: and, with a few exceptions, 
the sympathy of others touches me, as far as its 
loss goes, very little. No man of my position 
can fall into the mire of life without getting a 


great deal of pity from his inferiors ; and I know 
that when plays last too long, spectators tire. 
My tragedy has lasted far too long; its climax 
is over ; its end is mean ; and I am quite con- 
scious of the fact that when the end does come 
I shall return an unwelcome visitant to a world 
that does not want me ; a revenant, as the French 
say, and one whose face is grey with long im- 
prisonment and crooked with pain. Horrible 
as are the dead when they rise from their tombs, 
the living who come out from tombs are more 
horrible still. Of all this I am only too conscious. 
When one has been for eighteen terrible months 
in a prison cell, one sees things and people as 
they really are. The sight turns one to stone. 
Do not think that I woujd blame any one for my 
vices. My friends had as little to do with them 
as I had with theirs. Nature was in this matter 
a stepmother to all of us. I blame them for not 
appreciating the man they ruined. As long as 
my table was red with wine and roses, what 
did they care .-' My genius, my life as an artist, 
my work, and the quiet I needed for it, were 
nothing to them. I admit I lost my head. I 


was bewildered, incapable of judgment. I 
made the one fatal step. And now I sit here 
on a bench in a prison cell. In all tragedies 
there is a grotesque element. You know the 
grotesque element in mine. Do not think I do 
not blame myself. I curse myself night and 
day for my folly in allowing something to 
dominate my life. If there was an echo in these 
walls, it would cry 'Fool' for ever. I am 
utterly ashamed of my friendships. . . . For by 
their friendships men can be judged. It is a 
test of every man. And I feel poignant abase- 
ment of shame for my friendships ... of which 
you may read a full account in my trial. 

It is to me a daily source of mental humiliation. 
Of some of them I never think. They trouble me 
not. It is of no importance. . . . Indeed my 
entire tragedy seems to be grotesque and 
nothing else. For as a result of my having 
suffered myself to be thrust into a trap ... in 
the lowest mire of Malebolge, I sit between 
Gilles de Retz and the Marquis de Sade. In 
certain places no one, except those actually 
insane, is allowed to laugh : and indeed, even in 


their case, it is against the regulations for con- 
duct : otherwise I think I would laugh at that. 
, . . For the rest, do not let any one suppose 
that I am crediting others with unworthy 
motives. They really had no motives in life at 
all. Motives are intellectual things. They had 
passions merely, and such passions are false 
gods that will have victims at all costs and in 
the present case have had one wreathed vnth. 
bay. Now I have plucked the thorn out — that 
little scrawled line of yours rankled terribly. 
I now think merely of your getting quite well 
again, and writing at last the wonderful story of 
. . . Pray remember me with my thanks to your 
dear mother, and also to Aleck. The ' Gilded 
Sphinx ' ^ is, I suppose, wonderful as ever. 
And send from me all that in my thoughts and 
feelings is good, and whatever of remembrance 
and reverence she will accept, to the lady of 
Wimbledon, whose soul is a sanctuai-y for those 

* The ' Gilded Sphinx ' is a nickname given to the clever 
aathor of The Twelfth Hour. She became acquainted with 
"Wilde through her amusing parodies of his work in Pxmch. 
She received him hospitably at her house in 1895 when he 
was released on bail between his trials. 


who are wounded and a house of refuge for 
those in pain. Do not show this letter to 
others — nor discuss what I have written in your 
answer. Tell me about that world of shadows 
I loved so much. And about the life and the 
soul tell me also. I am curious of the things 
that stung me ; and in my pain there is pity. 


Letter III 

April Ut, 1897. 
My dear Robbie, — I send you a MS. separate 
from this, which I hope will arrive safely. As 
soon as you have read it, I want you to have it 
carefully copied for me. There are many causes 
why I wish this to be done. One will suffice. 
I want you to be my literary executor in case 
of my death, and to have complete control of 
my plays, books, and papers. As soon as I find 
I have a legal right to make a will, I will do so. 
My wife does not understand my art, nor could 


be expected to have any interest in it, and Cyril 
is only a child. So I turn naturally to you, as 
indeed I do for everything, and would like you 
to have all my works. The deficit that their 
sale will produce may be lodged to the credit 
of Cyril and Vivian. Well, if you are my 
literary executor, you must be in possession of 
the only document that gives any explanation 
of my extraordinary behaviour. . . . When you 
have read the letter, you will see the psycho- 
logical explanation of a course of conduct that 
from the outside seems a combination of 
absolute idiotcy with vulgar bravado. Some 
day the truth will have to be known — not 
necessarily in my lifetime . . . but I am not 
prepared to sife in the grotesque pillory they 
put me into, for all time ; for the simple reason 
that I inherited from my father and mother a 
name of high distinction in literature and art, 
and I cannot for eternity allow that name to be 
degraded. I don't defend my conduct. I ex- 
plain it. Also there are in my letter certain 
passages which deal with my mental develop- 
ment in prison, and the inevitable evolution of 


my character and intellectual attitude towards 
life that has taken place : and I want you and 
others who still stand by me and have affection 
for me to know exactly in what mood and 
manner I hope to face the world. Of course 
from one point of \ieyr I know that on the day 
of my release I shall be merely passing from one 
prison into another, and there are times when 
the whole world seems to me no larger than my 
cell and as full of terror for me. Still I believe 
that at the beginning God made a world for 
each separate man, and in that world which is 
within us we should seek to live. At any rate 
you will read those parts of my letter with less 
pain than the others. Of course I need not 
remind you how fluid a thing thought is with 
me — with us all — and of what an evanescent 
substance are our emotions made. Still I do 
see a sort of possible goal towards which, 
through art, I may progress. It is not unlikely 
that you may help me. 

As regards the mode of copying : of course 
it is too long for any amanuensis to attempt : 
and your own handwriting, dear Robbie, in your 


last letter seems specially designed to remind 
me that the task is not to be yours. I think that 
the only thing to do is to be thoroughly modem 
and to have it typewritten. Of course the MS. 
should not pass out of your control, but could 
you not get Mrs. Marshall to send down one 
of her typewriting girls — women are the most 
reliable as they have no memory for the im- 
portant — to Homton Street or Phillimore 
Gardens, to do it under your supervision.-* I 
assure you that the typewriting machine, when 
played with expression, is not more annoying 
than the piano when played by a sister or 
near relation. Indeed many among those 
most devoted to domesticity prefer it. I 
wish the copy to be done not on tissue 
paper but on good paper such as is used for 
plays, and a wide rubricated margin should be 
left for corrections. ... If the copy is done 
at Homton Street the lady typewriter might 
be fed through a lattice in the door, like the 
Cardinals when they elect a Pope; till she 
comes out on the balcony and can say to the 
world : ' Habet Mundus Epistolam ' ; for indeed 


it is an Encyclical letter, and as the Bulls of the 
Holy Father are named from their opening 
words, it may be spoken of as the ' Epistola : in 
Carcere et Vinculis' ... In point of fact, Robbie, 
prison life makes one see people and things as 
they really are. That is why it turns one to 
stone. It is the people outside who are deceived 
by the illusions of a life in constant motion. 
They revolve with life and contribute to its 
unreality. We who are immobile both see and 
know. Whether or not the letter does good to 
narrow natures and hectic brains, to me it has 
done good. I have 'cleansed my bosom of 
much perilous stuff' ; to borrow a phrase from 
the poet whom you and I once thought of 
rescuing from the Philistines. I need not 
remind you that mere expression is to an artist 
the supreme and only mode of life. It is by 
utterance that we live. Of the many, many 
things for which I have to thank the Governor 
there is none for which I am more grateful than 
for his permission to write fully and at as great 
a length as I desire. For nearly two years I 
had within a growing burden of bitterness, of 


much of which I have now got rid. On the 
other side of the prison wall there are some 
poor black soot-besmirched trees that are just 
breaking out into buds of an almost shrill green. 
I know quite well what they are going through. 
They are finding expression. 

Ever yours, 


Letter IV 

April Gtk, 1897. 
, , , Consider now, my dear Robbie, my pro- 
posal. I think my wife, who in money matters 
is most honourable and high-minded, will refund 
the JE — paid for my share. I have no doubt 
she will. But I think it should be offered from 
me and that I should not accept anything in the 
way of income from her ; I can accept what is 
given in love and affection to me, but I could 
not accept what is doled out grudgingly or with 
conditions. I would sooner let my wife be quite 
free. She may marry again. In any case I 
think that if free she would allow me to see my 


children from time to time. That is what I 
■want. But I must set her free first, and had 
better do it as a gentleman by bowing my head 
and accepting everything. You must consider 
the whole question, as it is to you and your ill- 
advised action it is due : and let me know what 
you and others think. Of course you acted for 
the best. But you were wrong in your view, I 
may say candidly that I am getting gradually to 
a state of mind when 1 think that everything 
that happens is for the best. This may be 
philosophy or a broken heart, or religion, or the 
dull apathy of despair. But, whatever its origin, 
the feeling is strong with me. To tie my wife 
to me against her will would be wrong. She 
has a full right to her freedom. And not to be 
supported by her would be a pleasure to me. It 
is an ignominious position to be a pensioner on 
her. Talk over this with More Adey. Get him 
to show you the letter I have written to him. 
Ask your brother Aleck to give me his advice. 
He has excellent wisdom on things. 

Now to other points. 

I have never had the chance of thanking you 


for the books. They were most welcome. Not 
being allowed the magazines was a blow, but 
Meredith's novel charmed me. What a sane 
artist in temper! He is quite right in his 
assertion of sanity as the essential in romance. 
Still up to the present only the abnormal has 
found expression in life and literature. Rossetti's 
letters are dreadful; obviously forgeries by his 
brother. I was interested, however, to see how 
my grand-uncle's Melmoih and my mother's 
Sidonia have been two of the books that fascinated 
his youth. As regards the conspiracy against 
him in later years, I believe it really existed, 
and that the funds for it came out of Hake's ^ 
Bank. The conduct of a thrush in Cheyne Walk 
seems to be most suspicious, though William 
Rossetti says : ' I could discern nothing in the 
thrush's song at all out of the common.' Steven- 
son's lettei's are most disappointing also — I see 
that romantic surroundings are the worst sur- 
roundings possible for a romantic writer. In 

1 Egmont Hake, author of Free Trade in Capital and 
advocate of a new scheme of banking which amused Wilde 
very much. 


Gower Street Stevenson could have written a 
new Trots Mousquetaires. In Samoa he wrote 
letters to the Times about Germans. I see also 
the traces of a terrible strain to lead a natural 
life. To chop wood with any advantage to 
oneself or profit to others, one should not be 
able to describe the process. In point of fact 
the natural life is the unconscious life. Steven- 
son merely extended the sphere of the artificial 
by taking to digging. The whole dreary book 
has given me a lesson. If I spend my future 
life reading Baudelaire in a caf6 I shall be lead- 
ing a more natural life than if I take to hedger's 
work or plant cacao in mud-swamps. En Route 
is most overrated. It is sheer journalism. It 
never makes one hear a note of the music it 
describes. The subject is delightful, but the 
style is of course worthless, slipshod, flaccid. It 
is worse French than Ohnet's. Ohnet tries to 
be commonplace and succeeds. Huysmans tries 
not to be, and is. Hardy's novel is pleasant, 
and the style perfect; and Harold Frederic's 
very interesting in matter. Later on, there 
being hardly any novels in the prison library for 


the poor imprisoned fellows I live with, I think 
of presenting the Library with about a dozen 
good novels: Stevenson's (none here but the 
Black Arrow), some of Thackeray's (none here), 
Jane Austen (none here), and some good Dumas- 
pere-like books, by Stanley Weyman, for instance, 
and any modem young man. You mentioned 
Henley had a protege?^ Also the Anthony 
Hope man. After Easter you might make out 
a list of about fourteen and apply to let me 
have them. They would please the few who do 
not care about De Goncourt's journal.^ Don't 
forget I would pay myself for them. I have a 
horror myself of going out into a world without 
a single book of my own. I wonder would there 

be any of my friends, such as C L , 

Reggie Turner, G B , Max, and the like, 

who would give me a few books? You know 
the sort of books I want ; Flaubert, Stevenson, 
Baudelaire, Maeterlinck, Dumas pere, Keats, 
Marlowe, Chatterton, Coleridge, Anatole France, 

1 This is ftlr. H. G. Wella. 

^ De Goncourt's journal, of which a new volume had been 
published, contained references to Wilde. It was one of the 
books sent to him in prison. 


Gautier, Dante and all Dante literature : Goethe 
and Goethe literature, and so on. I should feel 
it a great compliment to have books waiting for 
me — and perhaps there may be some friends 
who would like to be kind to me. One is really 
very grateful, though I fear I often seem not to 
be. But then remember I have had incessant 
worries besides prison-life. 

In answer to this you can send me a long 
letter all about plays and books. Your hand- 
writing, in your last, was so dreadful that it 
looked as if you were writing a three volume 
novel on the terrible spread of communistic 
ideas among the rich, or in some other way 
wasting a youth that always has been, and 
always will remain, quite full of promise. If I 
wrong you in ascribing it to such a cause, you 
must make allowances for the morbidity pro- 
duced by long imprisonment. But do write 
clearly. Otherwise it looks as if you had some- 
thing to conceal. 

There is much that is horrid, I suppose, in 
this letter. But I had to blame you to yourself, 
not to others. Read my letter to More. Harris 


comes to see me on Saturday, I hope. Remem- 
ber me to Arthur Clifton and his wife, who, I 
find, is so like Rossetti's wife — the same lovely 
hair — ^but of course a sweeter nature, though 
Miss Siddal is fascinating and her poem Al. 
Yours ever, 



MY place would be between Gilles de Retz 
and the Marquis de Sade. I dare say 
it is best so. I have no desire to complain. 
One of the many lessons that one learns in 
prison is, that things are what they are and will 
be what they will be. Nor have I any doubt 
that the leper of medisevalism and the author of 
Justine will prove better company than Sandford 
and Merion. . . 

All this took place in the early part of 
November of the year before last. A great 
river of life flows between me and a date so 
distant. Hardly, if at all, can you see across so 
wide a waste. But to me it seems to have 
occurred, I will not say yesterday, but to-day. 
Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot 


divide it by seasons. We can only record its 
moods, and clironicle their return. With us 
time itself does not progress. It revolves. It 
seems to circle round one centre of pain. The 
paralysing immobility of a life every circumstance 
of which is regulated after an unchangeable 
pattern, so that we eat and drink and lie down 
and pray, or kneel at least for prayer, according 
to the inflexible laws of an iron formula; this 
immobile quality, that makes each dreadful day 
in the very minutest detail like its brother, 
seems to communicate itself to those external 
forces, the very essence of whose existence is 
ceaseless change. Of seed-time or harvest, of 
the reapers bending over the corn, or the grape 
gatherers threading through the vines, of the 
gi-ass in the orchard made white with broken 
blossoms or strewn with fallen fruit : of these we 
know nothing, and can know nothing. 

For us there is only one season, the season of 
sorrow. The very sun and moon seem taken 
from us. Outside, the day may be blue and 
gold, but the light that creeps down through 
the thickly-muffled glass of the small iron-barred 


window beneath which one sits is grey and 
niggard. It is always twilight in one's cell, as 
it is always twilight in one's heart. And in the 
sphere of thought, no less than in the sphere of 
time, motion is no more. The thing that you 
personally have long ago forgotten, or can easily 
forget, is happening to me now, and will happen 
to me again to-morrow. Remember this, and 
you will be able to understand a little of 
why I am writing, and in this manner 
writing. . . . 

A week later, I am transferred here. Three 
more months go over and my mother dies. No 
one knew how deeply I loved and honoured her. 
Her death was terrible to me ; but I, once a 
lord of language, have no words in which to 
express my anguish and my shame. Never even 
in the most perfect days of my development as 
an artist could I have found words fit to bear so 
august a burden ; or to move with sufficient 
stateliness of music through the purple pageant 
of my incommunicable woe. She and my 
father had bequeathed me a name they had 
made noble and honoured, not merely in litera- 


ture, art, archaeology, and science, but in 
the public history of ray own country, in 
its evolution as a nation. I had disgraced that 
name eternally. I had made it a low byword 
among low people. I had dragged it through 
the very mire. I had given it to brutes that 
they might make it brutal, and to fools that 
they might turn it into a synonym for folly. 
What I suffered then, and still suffer, is not 
for pen to write or paper to record. My wife, 
always kind and gentle to me, rather than that 
I should hear the news from indifferent lips, 
travelled, ill as she was, all the way from Genoa 
to England to break to me herself the tidings 
of so irreparable, so irremediable, a loss. Mes- 
sages of sympathy reached me from all who 
had still affection for me. Even people who 
had not known me personally, hearing that a 
new sorrow had broken into my life, wrote to 
ask that some expression of their condolence 
should be conveyed to me. . . . 

Three months go over. The calendar of 
my daily conduct and labour that hangs on 
the outside of my cell door, with my name 


and sentence written upon it, tells me that it 
is May. . . . 

Prosperity, pleasure and success, may be rough 
of grain and common in fibre, but sorrow is the 
most sensitive of all created things. There is 
nothing that stirs in the whole world of thought 
to which sorrow does not vibrate in terrible and 
exquisite pulsation. The thin beaten-out leaf of 
tremulous gold that chronicles the direction of 
forces the eye cannot see is in comparison coarse. 
It is a wound that bleeds when any hand but that 
of love touches it, and even then must bleed again, 
though not in pain. 

Where there is sorrow there is holy ground. 
Some day people will realise what that means. 
They will know nothing of life till they do. 

and natures like his can realise it. When 

I was brought down from my prison to the 
Court of Bankruptcy, between two policemen, 

waited in the long dreary corridor that, 

before the whole crowd, whom an action so 
sweet and simple hushed into silence, he might 
gravely raise his hat to me, as, handcuffed and 
with bowed head, I passed him by. Men 


have gone to heaven for smaller things than 
that. It was in this spirit, and with this mode 
of love, that the saints knelt down to wash the 
feet of the poor, or stooped to kiss the leper on 
the cheek. I have never said one single word 
to him about what he did. I do not know to 
the present moment whether he is aware that 
I was even conscious of his action. It is not 
a thing for which one can render formal thanks 
in formal words. I store it in the treasure-house 
of my heart. I keep it there as a secret debt 
that I am glad to think I can never possibly 
repay. It is embalmed and kept sweet by the 
myrrh and cassia of many tears. When wisdom 
has been profitless to me, philosophy barren, 
and the proverbs and phrases of those who 
have sought to give me consolation as dust 
and ashes in my mouth, the memory of that 
little, lovely, silent act of love has unsealed 
for me all the wells of pity : made the desert 
blossom like a rose, and brought me out of the 
bitterness of lonely exile into harmony with the 
wounded, broken, and great heart of the world. 
When people are able to understand, not merely 


how beautiful 's action was, but why it 

meant so much to me, and always will mean 
so much, then, perhaps, they will realise how 
and in what spirit they should approach 
me. . . . 

The first volume of Poems that in the very 
springtide of his manhood a young man sends 
forth to the world should be like a blossom or 
flower of spring, like the white thorn in the 
meadow at Magdalen or the cowslips in the 
Cumnor fields. It should not be burdened by 
the weight of a terrible and revolting tragedy ; 
a terrible revolting scandal. If I had allowed 
my name to serve as herald to such a book, it 
would have been a grave artistic error ; it would 
have brought a wrong atmosphere round the 
whole work and in modern art atmosphere 
counts for so much. Modem life is complex 
and relative ; those are its two distinguishing 
notes ; to render the first we require atmosphere 
with its subtlety of nuances, of suggestion, of 
strange perspectives; as for the second we 
require background. That is why sculpture has 


ceased to be a representative art and why music 
is a representative art and why literature is, and 
has been and always will remain the supreme 
representative art. . . . 

Every twelve weeks R writes to me a 

little budget of literary news. Nothing can 
be more charming than his letters, in their 
wit, their clever concentrated criticism, their 
light touch : they are real letters, they are 
like a person talking to one; they have the 
quality of a French causerie intime; and in his 
delicate mode of deference to me, appealing at 
one time to my judgment, at another to my 
sense of humour, at another to my instinct for 
beauty or to my culture, and reminding me in 
a hundred subtle ways that once I was to many 
arbiter of style in art; the supreme arbiter to 
some ; he shows how he has the tact of love 
as well as the tact of literature. His letters 
have been the messengers between me and that 
beautiful unreal world of art where once I was 
King, and would have remained King indeed, 
had I not let myself be lured into the imperfect 


world of coarse uncompleted passion, of appetite 
without distinction, desire without limit, and 
formless greed. Yet when all is said surely 

might have been able to understand or 

conceive, at any rate that on the ordinary 
grounds of mere psychological curiosity it would 
have been more interesting to me to hear from 

than to learn that Alfred Austin was trying 

to bring out a volume of poems; that George 
Street was writing dramatic criticism for the 
Daily Chronicle', or that by one who cannot 
speak a panegyric without stammering, Mrs. 
Meynell had been pronounced to be the new 
Sibyl of style. . . . 

• ••••• 

Other miserable men when they are thrown 
into prison, if they are robbed of the beauty of 
the world are at least safe in some measure from 
the world's most deadly slings, most awful 
arrows. They can hide in the darkness of 
their cells and of their very disgrace make a 
mode of sanctuary. The world having had its 
will goes its way, and they are left to suffer 
undisturbed. With me it has been different. 


Sorrow after sorrow has come beating at the 
prison doors in search of me ; they have opened 
the gates wide and let them in. Hardly if 
at all have my friends been suffered to see me. 
Bijt my enemies have had full access to me 
always; twice in my public appearances in the 
Bankruptcy Court; twice again in my public 
transferences from one prison to anotlier have 
I been shown under conditions of unspeakable 
humiliation to the gaze and mockery of men. 
The messenger of Death had brought me his 
tidings and gone his way ; and in entire solitude 
and isolated from all that could give me comfort 
or suggest relief I have had to bear the intoler- 
able burden of misery and remorse, which the 
memory of my mother placed upon me and 
places on me still. Hardly has that wound 
been dulled, not healed, by time, when violent 
and bitter and harsh letters come to me from 
solicitors. I am at once taunted and threatened 
with poverty. That I can bear. I can school 
myself to worse than that ; but my two children 
are taken from me by legal procedure. That 
iSj and always will remain to me a source of 


infinite distress, of infinite pain, of grief without 
end or limit. That the law should decide and 
take upon itself to decide that I am one unfit to 
be with my own children is something quite 
horrible to me. The disgrace of prison is as 
nothing compared with it. I envy the other 
men who tread the yard along with me. I am 
sure that their children wait for them, look for 
their coming, will be sweet to them. 

The poor are wiser, more charitable, more 
kind, more sensitive than we are. In their 
eyes prison is a tragedy in a man's life, a 
misfortune, a casualty, something that calls for 
sympathy in others. They speak of one who 
is in prison as of one who is * in trouble ' simply. 
It is the phrase they always use, and the expres- 
sion has the perfect wisdom of love in it. With 
people of our own rank it is different. With us, 
prison makes a man a pariah. I, and such as I 
am, have hardly any right to air and sun. Our 
presence taints the pleasures of others. We are 
unwelcome when we reappear. To revisit the 
glimpses of the moon is not for us. Our very 
children are taken away. Those lovely links 


with humanity are broken. We are doomed to 
be solitary, while our sons still live. We are 
denied the one thing that might heal us and 
keep us, that might bring balm to the bruised 
heart, and peace to the soul in pain. . . , 

I must say to myself that I ruined myself, and 
that nobody great or small can be ruined except 
by his own hand. I am quite ready to say so. 
I am trying to say so, though they may not 
think it at the present moment. This pitiless 
indictment I bring without pity against myself. 
Terrible as was what the world did to me, 
what I did to myself was far more terrible 

I was a man who stood in symbolic relations 
to the art and culture of my age. I had realised 
this for myself at the very dawn of my manhood, 
and had forced my age to realise it afterwards. 
Few men hold such a position in their own life- 
time, and have it so acknowledged. It is usually 
discerned, if discerned at aU, by the historian, 
or the critic, long after both the man and his 
age have passed away. With me it was different. 
I felt it myself, and made others feel it. Byron 


was a symbolic figure, but his relations were to 
the passion of his age and its weariness of 
passion. Mine were to something more noble, 
more permanent, of more vital issue, of larger 

The gods had given me almost everything. I 
had genius, a distinguished name, high social 
position, brilliancy, intellectual daring ; I made 
art a philosophy and philosophy an art : I altered 
the minds of men and the colours of things; 
there was nothing I said or did that did not 
make people wonder. I took the drama, the 
most objective form known to art, and made 
it as personal a mode of expression as the lyric 
or sonnet; at the same time I widened its 
range and enriched its characterisation. Drama, 
novel, poem in prose, poem in rhyme, subtle 
or fantastic dialogue, whatever I touched, I 
made beautiful in a new mode of beauty: to 
truth itself I gave what is false no less than 
what is true as its rightfid province, and showed 
that the false and the true are merely forms of 
intellectual existence. I treated art as the 
supreme reality and life as a mere mode of 


fiction. I awoke the imagination of my century 
so that it created myth and legend around me. 
I summed up all systems in a phrase and all 
existence in an epigram. Along with these 
things I had things that were different. But 
I let myself be lured into long spells of sense- 
less and sensual ease. I amused myself with 
being a -flaneur, a dandy, a man of fashion. I 
surrounded myself with the smaller natures 
and the meaner minds. I became the spend- 
thrift of my own genius, and to waste an 
eternal youth gave me a curious joy. Tired 
of being on the heights, I deliberately went 
to the depths in the search for new sensation. 
What the paradox was to me in the sphere of 
thought, perversity became to me in the sphere 
of passion. Desire, at the end, was a malady, 
or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the 
lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased 
me, and passed on. I forgot that every little 
action of the common day makes or unmakes 
character, and that therefore what one has 
done in the secret chamber one has some day 
to cry aloud on the housetops. 1 ceased to be 


lord over myself. I was no longer the captain 
of ray soul, and did not know it. I allowed 
pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible 
disgrace. There is only one thing for me now, 
absolute humility. 

I have lain in prison for nearly two years. 
Out of my nature has come wild despair; an 
abandonment to grief that was piteous even to 
look at ; terrible and impotent rage ; bitterness 
and scorn ; anguish that wept aloud ; misery 
that could find no voice; sorrow that was 
dumb. I have passed through every possible 
mood of suffering. Better than Wordsworth 
himself I know what Wordsworth meant when 
he said — 

Suffering is permanent, obscure, and dark. 
And has the nature of infinity. 

But while there were times when I rejoiced 
in the idea that my sufferings were to be 
endless, I could not bear them to be without 
meaning. Now I find hidden somewhere away 
in my nature something that tells me that 
Nothing in the whole world is meaningless. 


and suffering least of all. That something 
hidden away in my nature, like a treasure in a 
field, is Humility. 

It is the last thing left in me, and the best : 
the ultimate discovery at which I have arrived, 
the starting-point for a fresh development. It 
has come to me right out of myself, so I know 
that it has come at the proper time. It could 
not have come before, nor later. Had any one 
told me of it, I would have rejected it. Had it 
been brought to me, I would have refused it. 
As I found it, I want to keep it. I must do so. 
It is the one thing that has in it the elements of 
life, of a new life, a Viia Nuova for me. Of all 
things it is the strangest; one cannot give it 
away and another may not give it to one. One 
cannot acquire it except by surrendering every- 
thing that one has. It is only when one has 
lost all things, that one knows that one 
possesses it 

Now I have realised that it is in me, I see 
quite clearly what I ought to do ; in fact, must 
do. And when I use such a phrase as that, I 
need not say that I am not alluding to any 


external sanction or command. I admit none. 
I am far more of an individualist than I ever 
was. Nothing seems to me of the smallest 
value except what one gets out of oneself. 
My nature is seeking a fresh mode of self- 
realisation. That is all I am concerned with. 
And the first thing that I have got to do is 
to free myself from any possible bitterness of 
feeling against the world. 

I am completely penniless, and absolutely 
homeless. Yet there are worse things in the 
world than that. I am quite candid when I say 
that rather than go out from this prison with 
bitterness in my heart against the world, I would 
gladly and readily beg my bread from door to 
door. If I got nothing from the house of the 
rich I would get something at the house of the 
poor. Those who have much are often greedy ; 
those who have little always share. I would not 
a bit mind sleeping in the cool grass in summer, 
and when winter came on sheltering myself by 
the warm close-thatched rick, or under the pent- 
house of a great barn, provided I had love in my 
heart. The external things of life seem to me 


now of no importance at all. You can see to 
what intensity of individualism I have arrived — 
or am arriving rather, for the journey is long, 
and ' where I walk there are thorns.' 

Of course I know that to ask alms on the 
highway is not to be my lot, and that if ever I 
lie in the cool grass at night-time it will be to 
Mrrite sonnets to the moon. When I go out of 

prison, R will be waiting for me on the 

other side of the big iron-studded gate, and he 
is the symbol, not merely of his own affection, 
but of the affection of many others besides. I 
believe I am to have enough to live on for about 
eighteen months at any rate, so that if I may 
not write beautiful books, I may at least read 
beautiful books; and what joy can be greater? 
After that, I hope to be able to recreate my 
creative faculty. 

But were things different : had I not a friend 
left in the world ; were there not a single house 
open to me in pity ; had I to accept the wallet 
and ragged cloak of sheer penury : as long as I 
am free from all resentment, hardness, and 
scorn, I would be able to face the life with much 


more calm and confidence than I would were my 
body in purple and fine linen^ and the soul 
within me sick with hate. 

And I really shall have no difficulty. When 
you really want love you will find it waiting for 

I need not say that my task does not end 
there. It would be comparatively easy if it did. 
There is much more before me. I have hills far 
steeper to climb, valleys much darker to pass 
through. And I have to get it all out of myself. 
Neither religion, morality, nor reason can help 
me at all. 

Morality does not help me. I am a bom 
antinomian. I am one of those who are made 
for exceptions, not for laws. But while I see 
that there is nothing wrong in what one does, I 
see that there is something wrong in what one 
becomes. It is well to have learned that. 

Religion does not help me. The faith that 
others give to what is unseen, I give to what one 
can touch, and look at. My gods dwell in 
temples made with hands ; and within the circle 
of actual experience is my creed noade perfect 


and complete : too complete, it may be, for like 
many or all of those vrho have placed their 
heaven in this earth, I have found in it not 
merely the beauty of heaven, but the horror of 
hell also. When I think about religion at all, I 
feel as if I would like to found an order for 
those who cannot believe: the Confraternity of 
the Faithless one might call it, where on an 
altar, on which no taper burned, a priest, in 
whose heart peace had no dwelling, might cele- 
brate with unblessed bread and a chalice empty 
of wine. Every thing to be true must become 
a religion. And agnosticism should have its 
ritual no less than faith. It has sown its 
martyrs, it should reap its saints, and praise God 
daily for having hidden Himself from man. 
But whether it be faith or agnosticism, it must 
be nothing external to me. Its symbols must 
be of my own creating. Only that is spiritual 
which makes its own form. If I may not find 
its secret within myself, I shall never find it: 
if I have not got it already, it will never come 
to me. 

Reason does not help me. It tells me that 


the laws under which I am convicted are wrong 
and unjust laws, and the system under which I 
have suffered a wrong and unjust system. But, 
somehow, I have got to make both of these 
things just and right to me. And exactly as in 
Art one is only concerned with what a particular 
thing is at a particular moment to oneself, so it 
is also in the ethical evolution of one's character. 
I have got to make everything that has happened 
to me good for me. The plank bed, the loath- 
some food, the hard ropes shredded into oakum 
till one's finger-tips grow dull with pain^ the 
menial offices with which each day begins and 
finishes, the harsh orders that routine seems 
to necessitate, the dreadful dress that makes 
sorrow grotesque to look at, the silence, the soli- 
tude, the shame — each and all of these things I 
have to transform into a spiritual experience. 
There is not a single degradation of the body 
which I must not try and make into a spiritualis- 
ing of the soul. 

I want to get to the point when I shall be able 
to say quite simply, and without affectation, 
that the two great turning-points in my life 


were when my father sent me to Oxford, and 
when society sent me to prison. I will not say 
that prison is the best thing that could have 
happened to me ; for that phrase would savour 
of too great bitterness towards myself. I would 
sooner say, or hear it said of me, that I was so 
typical a child of my age, that in my perversity, 
and for that perversity's sake, I turned the good 
things of my life to evil, and the evil things of 
my life to good. 

What is said, however, by myself or by others, 
matters little. The important thing, the thing 
that lies before me, the thing that I have to do, 
if the brief remainder of my days is not to be 
maimed, marred, and incomplete, is to absorb 
into my nature all that has been done to me, to 
make it part of me, to accept it without com- 
plaint, fear, or reluctance. The supreme vice is 
shallowness. Whatever is realised is right. 

When first I was put into prison some people 
advised me to try and forget who I was. It was 
ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I 
am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now 
I am advised by others to try on my release to 


forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. 
I know that would be equally fatal. It would 
mean that I would always be haunted by an 
intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those 
things that are meant for me as much as for 
anybody else — the beauty of the sun and moon, 
the pageant of the seasons, the music of day- 
break and the silence of great nights, the rain 
falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping 
over the grass and making it silver — would all 
be tainted for me, and lose their healing power 
and their power of communicating joy. To 
regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's 
own development. To deny one's own experi- 
ences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own 
life. It is no less than a denial of the soul. 

For just as the body absorbs things of all kinds, 
things common and unclean no less than those 
that the priest or a vision has cleansed, and 
converts them into swiftness or strength, into 
the play of beautiful muscles and the moulding 
of fair flesh, into the curves and colours of the 
hair, the lids, the eye; so the soul in its turn 
has its nutritive functions also, and can transform 


into noble moods of thought and passions of 
high import what in itself is base, cruel, and 
degrading; nay, more, may find in these its 
most august modes of assertion, and can often 
reveal itself most perfectly through what was 
intended to desecrate or destroy. 

The fact of my having been the common 
prisoner of a common gaol I must frankly accept, 
and, curious as it may seem, one of the things I 
shall have to teach myself is not to be ashamed 
of it. I must accept it as a punishment, and if 
one is ashamed of having been punished, one 
might just as well never have been punished at 
all. Of course there are many things of which 
I was convicted that I had not done, but then 
there are many things of which I was convicted 
that I had done, and a still greater number of 
things in my life for which I was never indicted 
at all. And as the gods are strange, and punish 
us for what is good and humane in us as much 
as for what is evil and perverse, I must accept 
the fact that one is punished for the good as 
well as for the evil that one does. I have no 
doubt that it is quite right one should be. It 


helps one, or should help one, to realise both, 
and not to be too conceited about either. And 
if I then am not ashamed of my punishment, as 
I hope not to be, I shall be able to think, and 
walkj and live with freedom. 

Many men on their release carry their prison 
about with them into the air, and hide it as a 
secret disgrace in their hearts, and at length, 
like poor poisoned things, creep into some hole 
and die. It is wretched that they should have 
to do so, and it is wrong, terribly wrong, of 
society that it should force them to do so. 
Society takes upon itself the right to inflict 
appalhng punishment on the individual, but it 
also has the supreme vice of shallowness, and 
fails to realise what it has done. When the 
man's punishment is over, it leaves him to him- 
self; that is to say, it abandons him at the very 
moment when its highest duty towards him 
begins. It is really ashamed of its own actions, 
and shuns those whom it has punished, as people 
shun a creditor whose debt they cannot pay, or 
one on whom they have inflicted an irreparable, 
an irremediable wrong. I can claim on my side 


that if I realise what I have sufTered, society 
should realise what it has inflicted on me ; and 
that there should be no bitterness or hate on 
either side. 

Of course I know that from one point of view 
things will be made different for me than for 
others j must indeed, by the very nature of the 
case, be made so. The poor thieves and out- 
casts who are imprisoned here with me are in 
many respects more fortunate than I am. The 
little way in grey city or green field that saw 
their sin is small; to find those who know 
nothing of what they have done they need go 
no further than a bird might fly between the 
twilight at dawn and dawn itself: but for me 
the world is shrivelled to a handsbreadth, and 
everywhere I turn my name is written on the 
rocks in lead. For I have come, not from 
obscurity into the momentary notoriety of crime, 
but from a sort of eternity of fame to a sort of 
eternity of infamy, and sometimes seem to my- 
self to have shown, if indeed it required showing, 
that between the famous and the infamous there 
is but one step, if as much as one. 


Still, in the very fact that people will recog- 
nise me wherever I go, and know all about my 
life, as far as its follies go, I can discern some- 
thing good for me. It will force on me the 
necessity of again asserting myself as an artist, 
and as soon as I possibly can. If I can produce 
only one beautiful work of art I shall be able to 
rob malice of its venom, and cowardice of its 
sneer, and to pluck out the tongue of scorn by 
the roots. 

And if life be, as it surely is, a problem to me, 
I am no less a problem to life. People must 
adopt some attitude towards me, and so pass 
judgment both on themselves and me. I need 
not say I am not talking of particular individuals. 
The only people I would care to be with now 
are artists and people who have suffered : those 
who know what beauty is, and those who know 
what sorrow is : nobody else interests me. Nor 
am I making any demands on life. In all that I 
have said I am simply concerned with my own 
mental attitude towards life as a whole ; and I 
feel that not to be ashamed of having been 
punished is one of the first points I must attain 


to, for the sake of my own perfection, and be- 
cause I am so imperfect. 

Then I must learn how to be happy. Once I 
knew it, or thought I knew it, by instinct. It 
was always springtime once in my heart. My 
temperament was akin to joy. I filled my life 
to the very brim with pleasure, as one might fill 
a cup to the very brim with wine. Now I am 
approaching life from a completely new stand- 
point, and even to conceive happiness is often 
extremely difficult for me. I remember during 
my first term at Oxford reading in Pater's 
Renaissance — that book which has had such 
strange influence over my life — how Dante 
places low in the Inferno those who wilfully live 
in sadness ; and going to the college library and 
turning to the passage in the Divine Comedy 
where beneath the dreary marsh lie those who 
were 'sullen in the sweet air/ saying for ever 
and ever through their sighs — 
Tristi fummo 
Nell' aere dolce, che dal sol s'allegra. 

I knew the Church condemned accidia, but the 
whole idea seemed to me quite fantastic, just the 


sort of sin, I fancied, a priest who knew nothing 
about real life would invent. Nor could I 
understand how Dante, who says that 'sorrow 
re-marries us to God/ could have been so harsh 
to those who were enamoured of melancholy, if 
any such there really were. I had no idea that 
some day this would become to me one of the 
greatest temptations of my life. 

Wliile I was in Wandsworth prison I longed to 
die. It was my one desire. When after two 
months in the infirmary I was transferred here, 
and found myself growing gradually better in 
physical health, I was filled with rage. I deter- 
mined to commit suicide on the very day on 
which I left prison. After a time that evil 
mood passed away, and I made up my mind to 
live, but to wear gloom as a king wears purple : 
never to smile again : to turn whatever house I 
entered into a house of mourning : to make my 
friends walk slowly in sadness with me : to 
teuch them that melancholy is the true secret 
of life : to maim them with an alien sorrow : to 
mar them with my own pain. Now I feel quite 
differently. I see it would be both ungrateful 


and unkind of me to pull so long a face that 
when my friends came to see me they would 
have to make their faces still longer in order to 
show their sympathy ; or, if I desired to enter- 
tain them, to invite them to sit down silently to 
bitter herbs and funeral baked meats. I must 
learn how to be cheerful and happy. 

The last two occasions on which I was allowed 
to see my friends here, I tried to be as cheerful 
as possible, and to show my cheerfulness, in 
order to make them some slight return for their 
trouble in coming all the way from town to see 
me. It is only a slight return, I know, but it is 
the one, I feel certain, that pleases them most. 

I saw R for an hour on Saturday week, and 

I tried to give the fullest possible expression of 
the delight I really felt at our meeting. And 
that, in the views and ideas I am here shaping 
for myself, I am quite right is shown to me by 
the fact that now for the first time since my 
imprisonment I have a real desire for life. 

There is before me so much to do that I would 
regard it as a terrible tragedy if I died before I 
was allowed to complete at any rate a little of 


it. I see new developments in art and life, each 
one of which is a fresh mode of perfection. I 
long to live so that I can explore what is no less 
than a new world to me. Do you want to 
know what this new world is ? I think you can 
guess what it is. It is the world in which I 
have been living. Sorrow, then, and all that it 
teaches one, is my new world. 

I used to live entirely for pleasure. I shunned 
suffering and sorrow of every kind. I hated 
both. I resolved to ignore them as far as 
possible : to treat them, that is to say, as modes 
of imperfection. They were not part of my 
scheme of life. They had no place in my 
philosophy. My mother, who knew life as a 
whole, used often to quote to me Goethe's lines 
— written by Carlyle in a book he had given 
her years ago, and translated by him, I fancy, 
also : — 

Who never ate his bread in sorrow. 
Who never spent the midnight hours 

Weeping and waiting for the morrow, — 
He knows you not, ye heavenly powers. 

They were the hnes which that noble Queen 


of Prussia, whom Napoleon treated with such 
coarse brutality, used to quote in her humiliation 
and exile ; they were the lines my mother often 
quoted in the troubles of her later life. I 
absolutely declined to accept or admit the 
enormous truth hidden in them. I could not 
understand it. I remember quite well how I 
used to tell her that I did not want to eat my 
bread in sorrow, or to pass any night weeping 
and watching for a more bitter dawn. 

I had no idea that it was one of the special 
things that the Fates had in store for me : that 
for a whole year of my life, indeed, I was to do 
little else. But so has my portion been meted 
out to me; and during the last few months I 
have, after terrible difficulties and struggles, been 
able to comprehend some of the lessons hidden 
in the heart of pain. Clergymen and people 
who use phrases without wisdom sometimes talk 
of suffering as a mystery. It is really a revela- 
tion. One discerns things one never discerned 
before. One approaches the whole of history 
from a different standpoint. What one had felt 
dimly, through instinct, about art, is intel- 


lectually and emotionally realised with perfect 
clearness of vision and absolute intensity of 

I now see that sorrow, being tin*, supreme 
emotion of which man is capable, is at once the 
type and test of all great art. What the artist 
is always looking for is the mode of existence in 
which soul and body are one and indivisible : in 
which the outward is expressive of the inward : 
in which form reveals. Of such modes of 
existence there are not a few: youth and the 
arts preoccupied with youth may serve as a 
model for us at one moment : at another we may 
like to think that, in its subtlety and sensitive- 
ness of impression, its suggestion of a spirit 
dwelling in external things and making its 
raiment of earth and air, of mist and city alike, 
and in its morbid S3niipathy of its moods, and 
tones, and colours, modem landscape art is 
realising for us pictorially what was realised in 
such plastic perfection by the Greeks. Music, 
in which all subject is absorbed in expression and 
cannot be separated from it, is a complex 
example, and a flower or a child a simple 


example, of what I mean; but sorrow is the 
ultimate type both in life and art. 

Behind joy and laughter there may be a 
temperament, coarse, hard and callous. But 
behind sorrow there is always sorrow. Pain, 
unlike pleasure, wears no mask. Truth in art is 
not any correspondence between the essential 
idea and the accidental existence ; it is not the 
resemblance of shape to shadow, or of the form 
mirrored in the crystal to the form itself ; it is no 
echo coming from a hollow hill, any more than it 
is a silver well of water in the valley that shows 
the moon to the moon and Narcissus to Narcis- 
sus. Truth in art is the unity of a thing with 
itself: the outward rendered expressive of the 
inward : the soul made incarnate : the body 
instinct with spirit. For this reason there is no 
truth comparable to sorrow. There are times 
when sorrow seems to me to be the only truth. 
Other things may be illusions of the eye or the 
appetite, made to blind the one and cloy the 
other, but out of sorrow have the worlds been 
built, and at the birth of a child or a star there 
is pain. 


More than this, there is about sorrow an 
intense, an extraordinary reality. I have said of 
myself that I was one who stood in symbolic 
relations to the art and culture of my age. 
There is not a single wretched man in this 
wretched place along with me who does not 
stand in symbolic relation to the very secret of 
hfe. For the secret of life is suffering. It is 
what is hidden behind everything. When we 
begin to live, what is sweet is so sweet to us, 
and what is bitter so bitter, that we inevitably 
direct all our desires towards pleasures, and seek 
not merely for a ' month or twain to feed on 
honeycomb/ but for all our years to taste no 
other food, ignorant all the while that we may 
really be starving the soul. 

I remember talking once on this subject to 
one of the most beautiful personalities I have 
ever known : ^ a woman, whose sjonpathy and 
noble kindness to me, both before and since the 
tragedy of my imprisonment, have been beyond 

' ThiB is the lady at "Wimbledon to whom reference is made 
in Letter n., and to whom the editor has dedicated the 
Duchess of Padwu 


power and description; one who has really 
assisted me, though she does not know it, to 
bear the burden of my troubles more than any 
one else in the whole world has, and all through 
the mere fact of her existence, through her 
being what she is — partly an ideal and partly an 
influence : a suggestion of what one might 
become as well as a real help towards becoming 
it ; a soul that renders the common air sweet, 
and makes what is spiritual seem as simple and 
natural as sunlight or the sea : one for whom 
beauty and sorrow walk hand in hand, and have 
the same message. On the occasion of which I 
am thinking I recall distinctly how I said to her 
that there was enough suffering in one narrow 
London lane to show that God did not love raan^ 
and that wherever there was any sorrow, though 
but that of a child in some little garden weep- 
ing over a fault that it had or had not committed, 
the whole face of creation was completely 
marred. I was entirely wrong. She told me 
so, but I could not believe her. I was not in the 
sphere in which such belief was to be attained 
to. Now it seems to me that love of some kind 


is the only possible explanation of the extra- 
ordinary amount of suffering that there is in the 
world. I cannot conceive of any other explana- 
tion. I am convinced that there is no other, and 
that if the world has indeed, as I have said, been 
built of sorrow, it has been built by the hands 
of love, because in no other way could the soul 
of man^ for whom the world was made, reach 
the full stature of its perfection. Pleasure for 
the beautiful body, but pain for the beautiful 

When I say that I am convinced of these 
things I speak with too much pride. Far off", 
like a perfect pearl, one can see the city of God. 
It is so wonderful that it seems as if a child 
could reach it in a summer's day. And so a 
child could. But with me and such as me it is 
different. One can realise a thing in a single 
moment, but one loses it in the long hours that 
follow with leaden feet. It is so difficult to keep 
'heights that the soul is competent to gain.' 
We think in eternity, but we move slowly 
through time ; and how slowly time goes with us 
who lie in prison I need not tell again, nor of 

58 DE PR0FUND18 

the weariness and despair that creep back into 
one's cell, and into the cell of one's heart, with 
such strange insistence that one has, as it were, 
to garnish and sweep one's house for their com- 
ing, as for an unwelcome guest, or a bitter 
master, or a slave whose slave it is one's chance 
or choice to be. 

And, though at present my friends may find it 
a hard thing to believe, it is true none the less, 
that for them living in freedom and idleness and 
comfort it is more easy to learn the lessons of 
humility than it is for me, who begin the day by 
going down on my knees and washing the floor 
of my cell. For prison life with its endless 
privations and restrictions makes one rebellious. 
The most terrible thing about it is not that it 
breaks one's heart — hearts are made to be 
broken — but that it turns one's heart to stone. 
One sometimes feels that it is only with a front 
of brass and a lip of scorn that one can get 
through the day at all. And he who is in a 
state of rebellion cannot receive grace, to use 
the phrase of which the Church is so fond — so 
rightly fond, I dare say — for in life as in art the 


mood of rebellion closes up the channels of the 
soul, and shuts out the airs of heaven. Yet I 
must learn these lessons here, if I am to learn 
them anywhere, and must be filled with joy if 
my feet are on the right road and my face set 
towards 'the gate which is called beautiful,' 
though I may fall many times in the mire and 
often in the mist go astray. 

This New Life, as through my love of Dante 
I like sometimes to call it, is of course no new 
life at all, but simply the continuance, by means 
of development and evolution, of my former 
life. I remember when I was at Oxford saying 
to one of my friends as we were strolling round 
Magdalen's narrow bird-haunted walks one 
morning in the year before I took my degree, 
that I wanted to eat of the fruit of all the trees 
in the garden of the world, and that I was 
going out into the world with that passion in my 
soul. And so, indeed, I went out, and so I lived. 
My only mistake was that I confined myself so 
exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me 
the sun-lit side of the garden, and shunned the 
other side for its shadow and its gloom. 


Failure, disgrace, poverty, sorrow, despair, 
suffering, tears even, the broken words that 
come from lips in pain, remorse that makes one 
walk on thorns, conscience that condemns, self- 
abasement that punishes, the misery that puts 
ashes on its head, the anguish that chooses sack- 
cloth for its raiment and into its own drink puts 
gall: — all these were things of which I was 
afraid. And as I had determined to know 
nothing of them, I was forced to taste each of 
them in turn, to feed on them, to have for 
a season, indeed, no other food at all. 

I don't regret for a single moment having 
lived for pleasure. I did it to the full, as one 
should do everything that one does. There was 
no pleasure I did not experience. I threw the 
pearl of my soul into a cup of wine. I went 
down the primrose path to the sound of flutes. 
I lived on honeycomb. But to have continued 
the same life would have been wrong because 
it would have been limiting. I had to pass on. 
The other half of the garden had its secrets 
for me also. Of course all this is foreshadowed 
and prefigured in my books. Some of it is in 


TJie Happy Prince^ some of it in The Young King, 
notably in the passage where the bishop says 
to the kneeling boy, *Is not He who made 
misery wiser than thou art?' a phrase which 
when I wrote it seemed to me little more than 
a phrase ; a great deal of it is hidden away in 
the note of doom that like a purple thread 
runs through the texture of Dorian Gray, in 
The Critic as Artist it is set forth in many 
colours ; in The Soul of Man it is written down, 
and in letters too easy to read ; it is one of the 
refrains whose recurring motifs make Salami- 
so like a piece of music and bind it together 
as a ballad ; in the prose poem of the man who 
from the bronze of the image of the * Pleasure 
that liveth for a moment' has to make the 
image of the 'Sorrow that abideth for ever* 
it is incarnate. It could not have been other- 
wise. At every single moment of one's hfe 
one is what one is going to be no less than 
what one has been. Art is a symbol, because 
man is a symbol. 

It is, if I can fully attain to it, the ultimate 
realisation of the artistic life. For the artistic 


life is simply self-development. Humility in 
the artist is his frank acceptance of all ex- 
periences, just as love in the artist is simply 
the sense of beauty that reveals to the world 
its body and its soul. In Maiius the Epicurean 
Pater seeks to reconcile the artistic life with 
the life of religion, in the deep, sweet, and 
austere sense of the word. But Marius is little 
more than a spectator: an ideal spectator 
indeed, and one to whom it is given 'to con- 
template the spectacle of life with appropriate 
emotions/ which Wordsworth defines as the 
poet's true aim; yet a spectator merely, and 
perhaps a little too much occupied with the 
comeliness of the benches of the sanctuary to 
notice that it is the sanctuary of sorrow that 
he is gazing at. 

I see a far more intimate and immediate 
connection between the true life of Christ and 
the true life of the artist ; and I take a keen 
pleasure in the reflection that long before sorrow 
had made my days her own and bound me to 
her wheel I had written in The Soul of Man 
that he who would lead a Christ-like life must 


be entirely and absolutely himself, and had 
taken as ray types not merely the shepherd 
on the hillside and the prisoner in his cell, but 
also the painter to whom the world is a pageant 
and the poet for whom the world is a song. 
I remember saying once to Andre Gide, as we 
sat together in some Paris cafe, that while 
metaphysics had but little real interest for me, 
and morality absolutely none, there was nothing 
that either Plato or Christ had said that could 
not be transferred immediately into the sphere 
of Art and there find its complete fulfilment. 

Nor is it merely that we can discern in Christ 
that close union of personality with perfection 
which forms the real distinction between the 
classical and romantic movement in life, but 
the very basis of his nature was the same as 
that of the nature of the artist — an intense and 
flamelike imagination. He realised in the entire 
sphere of human relations that imaginative 
sympathy which in the sphere of Art is the sole 
secret of creation. He understood the leprosy 
of the leper, the darkness of the blind, the 
fierce misery of those who live for pleasure. 


the strange poverty of the rich. Some one 
wrote to me in trouble, * When you are not on 
your pedestal you are not interesting.' How 
remote was the writer from what Matthew 
Arnold calls 'the Secret of Jesus.' Either 
would have taught him that whatever happens 
to another happens to oneself, and if you want 
an inscription to read at dawn and at niglit- 
time, and for pleasure or for pain^ write up on 
the walls ot your house in letters for the sun 
to gild and the moon to silver, 'Whatever 
happens to oneself happens to another.' 

Christ's place indeed is with the poets. His 
whole conception of humanity sprang right out 
of the imagination and can only be realised by 
it. What God was to the pantheist, man was to 
him. He was the first to conceive the divided 
races as a unity. Before his time there had 
been gods and men, and, feeling through the 
mysticism of sympathy that in himself each had 
been made incarnate, he calls himself the Son 
of the one or the Son of the other, according to 
his mood. More than any one else in history 
he wakes in us that temper of wonder to which 


romance always appeals. There is still some- 
thing to me almost incredible in the idea of a 
young Galilean peasant imagining that he could 
bear on his own shoulders the burden of the 
entire world : all that had already been done and 
suffered, and all that was yet to be done and 
suffered : the sins of Nero, of Caesar Borgia, of 
Alexander vi., and of him who was Emperor of 
Rome and Priest of the Sun ; the sufferings of 
those whose names are legion and whose dwell- 
ing is among the tombs : oppressed nationalities, 
factory children, thieves, people in prison, out- 
casts, those who are dumb under oppression 
and whose silence is heard only of God ; and 
not merely imagining this but actually achiev- 
ing it, so that at the present moment all who 
come in contact with his personality, even 
though they may neither bow to his altar nor 
kneel before his priest, in some way find that 
the ugliness of their sin is taken away and the 
beauty of their sorrow revealed to them. 

I had said of Christ that he ranks with the 
poets. That is true. Shelley and Sophocles are 
of his company. But his entire life also is the 



most wonderful of poems. For ' pity and terror' 
there is nothing in the entire cycle of Greek 
tragedy to touch it. The absolute purity of the 
protagonist raises the entire scheme to a height 
of romantic art from which the sufferings of 
Thebes and Pelops' line are by their very horror 
excluded, and shows how wrong Aristotle was 
when he said in his treatise on the drama that 
it would be impossible to bear the spectacle 
of one blameless in pain. Nor in iEschylus 
nor Dante, those stern masters of tenderness, 
in Shakespeare, the most purely human of all 
the great artists, in the whole of Celtic myth 
and legend, where the loveliness of the world is 
shown through a mist of tears, and the life of a 
man is no more than the life of a flower, is there 
anything that, for sheer simplicity of pathos 
wedded and made one with sublimity of tragic 
effect, can be said to equal or even approach 
the last act of Christ's passion. The little 
supper with his companions, one of whom has 
already sold him for a price ; the anguish in the 
quiet moon-lit garden; the false friend coming 
close to him so as to betray him with a kiss; 


the friend who still believed in him, and on 
whom as on a rock he had hoped to build a 
house of refuge for Man, denying him as the 
bird cried to the dawn ; his own utter loneliness, 
his submission, his acceptance of everything; 
and along with it all such scenes as the high 
priest of orthodoxy rending his raiment in wrath, 
and the magistrate of civil justice calling for 
water in the vain hope of cleansing himself of 
that stain of innocent blood that makes him 
the scarlet figure of history; the coronation 
ceremony of sorrow, one of the most wonderful 
things in the whole of recorded time ; the 
crucifixion of the Innocent One before the eyes 
of his mother and of the disciple whom he 
loved ; the soldiers gambling and throwing dice 
for his clothes ; the terrible death by which 
he gave the world its most eternal symbol; 
and his final burial in the tomb of the rich 
man, his body swathed in Egyptian linen with 
costly spices and perfumes as though he had 
been a king's son. When one contemplates all 
this from the point of view of art alone one 
cannot but be grateful that the supreme office 


of the Church should be the playing of the 
tragedy without the shedding of blood: the 
mystical presentation, by means of dialogue and 
costume and gesture even, of the Passion of her 
Lord ; and it is always a source of pleasure and 
awe to me to remember that the ultimate sur- 
vival of the Greek chorus, lost elsewhere to 
art, is to be found in the servitor answering the 
priest at Mass. 

Yet the whole life of Chi-ist — so entirely 
may sorrow and beauty be made one in their 
meaning and manifestation — is really an idyll, 
though it ends with the veil of the temple being 
rent, and the darkness coming over the face of 
the earth, and the stone rolled to the door of 
the sepulchre. One always thinks of him as a 
young bridegroom with his companions, as in- 
deed he somewhere describes himself; as a 
shepherd straying through a valley with his 
sheep in search of green meadow or cool stream ; 
as a singer trying to build out of the music 
the walls of the City of God ; or as a lover for 
whose love the whole world was too small. His 
miracles seem to me to be as exquisite as the 


coming of spring, and quite as natural. I see 
no difficulty at all in believing that such was 
the charm of his personality that his mere 
presence could bring peace to souls in anguish, 
and that those who touched his garments or 
his hands forgot their pain ; or that as he passed 
by on the highway of life people who had seen 
nothing of life's mystery saw it clearly, and 
others who had been deaf to every voice but 
that of pleasure heard for the first time the 
voice of love and found it as ' musical as Apollo's 
lute ' ; or that evil passions fled at his approach, 
and men whose dull unimaginative lives had 
been but a mode of death rose as it were from 
the grave when he called them; or that when 
he taught on the hillside the multitude forgot 
their hunger and thirst and the cares of this 
world, and that to his friends who listened to 
him as he sat at meat the coarse food seemed 
delicate, and the water had the taste of good 
wine, and the whole house became full of the 
odour and sweetness of nard. 

Renan in his Fie de Jesus — that gracious fifth 
gospel, the gospel according to St. Thomas, 


one might call it — says somewhere that Christ's 
great achievement was that he made himself 
as much loved after his death as he had been 
during his lifetime. And certainly, if his place 
is among the poets, he is the leader of all the 
lovers. He saw that love was the first secret 
of the world for which the wise men had been 
looking, and that it was only through love that 
one could approach either the heart of the 
leper or the feet of God. 

And above all, Christ is the most supreme of 
individualists. Humility, like the artistic accept- 
ance of all experiences, is merely a mode of 
manifestation. It is man's soul that Christ is 
always looking for. He calls it 'God's King- 
dom,' and finds it in every one. He compares 
it to little things, to a tiny seed, to a handful 
of leaven, to a pearl. That is because one 
realises one's soul only by getting rid of all 
alien passions, all acquired culture, and all ex- 
ternal possessions, be they good or evil. 

I bore up against everything with some 
stubbornness of will and much rebellion of 
nature, till I had absolutely nothing left in 


the world but one thing. I had lost my name, 
my position, my happiness, my freedom, my 
wealth. I was a prisoner and a pauper. But 
I still had my children left. Suddenly they 
were taken away from me by the law. It was 
a blow so appalling that I did not know what 
to do, so I flung myself on my knees, and bowed 
my head, and wept, and said, 'The body of a 
child is as the body of the Lord: I am not 
worthy of either.' That moment seemed to 
save me. I saw then that the only thing for 
me was to accept everj'thing. Since then — 
curious as it will no doubt sound — I have been 
happier. It was of course my soul in its ulti- 
mate essence that I had reached. In many 
ways I had been its enemy, but I found it 
waiting for me as a friend. When one comes 
in contact with the soul it makes one simple 
as a child, as Christ said one should be. 

It is tragic how few people ever '^ possess 
their souls ' before they die. * Nothing is more 
rare in any man,' says Emerson, * than an act of 
his own.' It is quite true. Most people are 
other people. Their thoughts are some one 


else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their 
passions a quotation. Christ was not merely 
the supreme individualist, but he was the first 
individualist in history. People have tried to 
make him out an ordinary philanthropist, or 
ranked him as an altruist with the unscientific 
and sentimental. But he was really neither one 
nor the other. Pity he has, of course, for the 
poor, for those who are shut up in prisons, for 
the lowly, for the wretched; but he has far 
more pity for the rich, for the hard hedonists, 
for those who waste their freedom in becoming 
slaves to things, for those who wear soft raiment 
and live in king's houses. Riches and pleasure 
seemed to him to be really greater tragedies 
than poverty or sorrow. And as for altruism, 
who knew better than he that it is vocation not 
volition that determines us, and that one cannot 
gather grapes of thorns or figs from thistles ? 

To live for others as a definite self-conscious 
aim was not his creed. It was not the basis 
of his creed. When he says, ' Forgive your 
enemies/ it is not for the sake of the enemy, 
but for one's own sake that he says so. 


and because love is more beautiful than hate. 
In his own entreaty to the young man, 'Sell 
all that thou hast and give to the poor/ it is 
not of the state of the poor that he is thinking, 
but of the soul of the young man, the soul that 
wealth was mairing. In his view of life he is 
one with the artist who knows that by the 
inevitable law of self-perfection, the poet must 
sing, and the sculptor think in bronze, and the 
painter make the world a mirror for his moods, 
as surely and as certainly as the hawthorn 
must blossom in spring, and the com turn to 
gold at harvest-time, and the moon in her 
ordered wanderings change from shield to 
sickle, and from sickle to shield. 

But while Christ did not say to men, ' Live 
for others,' he pointed out that there was no 
difference at all between the lives of others and 
one's own life. By this means he gave to man 
an extended, a Titan personality. Since his 
coming the history of each separate individual 
is, or can be made, the history of the world. Of 
course, culture has intensified the personality 
of man. Art has made us myriad-minded. 


Those who have the artistic temperament go 
into exile with Dante and learn how salt is the 
bread of others, and how steep their stairs; 
they catch for a moment the serenity and calm 
of Goethe, and yet know but too well that 
Baudelaire cried to God — 

O Seigneur, donnez-moi la force et le courage 

De contempler mon corps et men coeur sans dcgout. 

Out of Shakespeare's sonnets they draw, to 
their own hurt it may be, the secret of his 
love and make it their own ; they look with 
new eyes on modem life, because they have 
listened to one of Chopin's nocturnes, or handled 
Greek things, or read the story of the passion 
of some dead man for some dead woman whose 
hair was like threads of fine gold, and whose 
mouth was as a pomegranate. But the sym- 
pathy of the artistic temperament is necessarily 
with what has found expression. In words or 
in colours, in music or in marble, behind the 
painted masks of an ^chylean play, or through 
some Sicilian shepherds' pierced and jointed 
reeds, the man and his message must have 
been revealed. 


To the artist, expression is the only mode 
under which he can conceive life at aU. To 
him what is dumb is dead. But to Christ it 
was not so. With a width and wonder of 
imagination that fills one almost with awe, he 
took the entire world of the inarticulate, the 
voiceless world of pain, as his kingdom, and 
made of himself its eternal mouthpiece. Those 
of whom I have spoken, who are dumb under 
oppression and 'whose silence is heard only of 
God/ he chose as his brothers. He sought to 
become eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, and 
a cry in the lips of those whose tongues had 
been tied. His desire was to be to the myriads 
who had found no utterance a very trumpet 
through which they might call to heaven. 
And feeling, with the artistic nature of one to 
whom suffering and sorrow were modes through 
which he could realise his conception of the 
beautiful, that an idea is of no value till it 
becomes incarnate and is made an image, he made 
of himself the image of the Man of Sorrows, and 
as such has fascinated and dominated art as no 
Greek god ever succeeded in doing. 


For the Greek gods, in spite of the white 
and red of their fair fleet limbs, were not 
really what they appeared to be. The curved 
brow of Apollo was like the sun's disc over 
a hill at dawn^ and his feet were as the wings 
of the morning, but he himself had been cruel 
to Marsyas and had made Niobe childless. In 
the steel shields of Athena's eyes there had 
been no pity f(Mr Arachne; the pomp and 
peacocks of Hera were all that was really noble 
about her; and the Father of the Gods him- 
self had been too fond of the daughters of men. 
The two most deeply suggestive figures of 
Greek mythology were, for religion, Demeter, 
an earth goddess, not one of the Olympians, 
and for art, Dionysos, the son of a mortal 
woman to whom the moment of his birth had 
proved also the moment of her death. 

But Life itself from its lowliest and most 
humble sphere produced one far more marvellous 
than the mother of Proserpina or the son of 
Semele. Out of the Carpenter's shop at 
Nazareth had come a personality infinitely 
greater than any made by myth and legend. 


and one, strangely enough, destined to reveal 
to the world the mystical meaning of wine 
and the real beauties of the lilies of the field 
as none, either on Cithaeron or at Enna, had 
ever done. 

The song of Isaiah, * He is despised and re- 
jected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted 
with grief: and we hid as it were our faces 
from him,' had seemed to him to prefigure 
himself, and in him the prophecy was fulfilled. 
We must not be afraid of such a phrase. Every 
single work of art is the fulfilment of a prophecy : 
for every work of art is the conversion of an 
idea into an image. Every single human being 
should be the fulfilment of a prophecy: for 
every human being should be the realisation of 
some ideal, either in the mind of God or in 
the mind of man. Christ found the type and 
fixed it, and the dream of a Virgilian poet, 
either at Jerusalem or at Babylon, became in 
the long progress of the centuries incarnate in 
him for whom the world was waiting. 'His 
visage was so marred more than any man, 
and his form more than the sons of men,' are 


among the signs noted by Isaiah as distinguish- 
ing the new ideal, and as soon as art understood 
what was meant it opened like a flower at the 
presence of one in whom truth in art was set 
forth as it had never been before. For is not 
truth in art, as I have said, ' that in which the 
outward is expressive of the inward ; in which 
the soul is made flesh and the body instinct 
with spirit in which form reveals ' ? 

To me one of the things in history the most 
to be regretted is that the Christ's own 
renaissance which has produced the Cathedral 
at Chartres, the Arthurian cycle of legends, 
the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the art of 
Giotto, and Dante's Divine Comedy, was not 
allowed to develop on its own lines, but was 
interrupted and spoiled by the dreary classical 
Renaissance that gave us Petrarch, and Raphael's 
frescoes, and Palladian architecture, and formal 
French tragedy, and St. Paul's Cathedral, and 
Pope's poetry, and everything that is made 
from without and by dead rules, and does not 
spring from within through some spirit in- 
forming it. But wherever there is a romantic 


movement in art there somehow, and under 
some form, is Christ, or the soul of Christ. He 
is in Romeo and Juliet, in the Winter's Tale, in 
Provengal poetry, in the Ancient Mariner, in La 
Belle Dame sans merci, and in Chatterton's 
Ballad oj Charity. 

We owe to him the most diverse things and 
people. Hugo's Les Mis6rahles, Baudelaire's 
Fleurs du Mai, the note of pity in Russian 
novels, Verlaine and Verlaine's poems, the 
stained glass and tapestries and the quattro- 
cento work of Bume-Jones and Morris, belong 
to him no less than the tower of Giotto, 
Lancelot and Guinevere, Tannhauser, the 
troubled romantic marbles of Michael Angelo, 
pointed architecture, and the love of children 
and flowers — for both of which, indeed, in 
classical art there was but little place, hardly 
enough for them to grow or play in, but which, 
from the twelfth century down to our own day, 
have been continually making their appearances 
in art, under various modes and at various times, 
coming fitfully and wilfully, as children, as 
flowers, are apt to do: spring always seeming 


to one as if the flowers had been in hiding, and 
on}y came out into the sun because they were 
afraid that gro^vn up people would grow tired 
of looking for them and give up the search; 
and the life of a child being no more than an 
April day on which there is both rain and sun 
for the narcissus. 

It is the imaginative quality of Christ's own 
nature that makes him this palpitating centre 
of romance. The strange figures of poetic 
drama and ballad are made by the imagination 
of others, but out of his own imagination 
entirely did Jesus of Nazareth create himself. 
The cry of Isaiah had really no more to do 
with his coming than the song of the nightingale 
has to do with the rising of the moon — no 
more, though perhaps no less. He was the 
denial as well as the affirmation of prophecy. 
For every expectation that he fulfilled there 
was another that he destroyed. * In all beauty,' 
says Bacon, 'there is some strangeness of pro- 
portion,' and of those who are bom of the 
spirit — of those, that is to say, who like himself 
are dynamic forces — Christ says that tbey are 


like the wind that 'bloweth where it listeth, 
and no man can tell whence it cometh and 
whither it goeth,* That is why he is so 
fascinating to artists. He has all the colour 
elements of life ; mystery, strangeness, pathos, 
suggestion, ecstasy, love. He appeals to the 
temper of wonder, and creates that mood in 
which alone he can be understood. 

And to me it is a joy to remember that if 
he is 'of imagination all compact,' the world 
itself is of the same substance. I said in 
Dorian Gray that the great sins of the world 
take place in the brain : but it is in the brain 
that everything takes place. We know now 
that we do not see with the eyes or hear with 
the ears. They are really channels for the 
transmission, adequate or inadequate, of sense 
impressions. It is in the brain that the poppy 
is red, that the apple is odorous, that the 
skylark sings. 

Of late I have been studying with diligence 
the four prose poems about Christ. At 
Christmas I managed to get hold of a Greek 
Testament, and every morning, after I had 


cleaned my cell and polished my tins, I read 
a little of the Gospels, a dozen verses taken 
by chance anywhere. It is a delightful way 
of opening the day. Every one, even in a 
turbulent, ill-disciplined life, should do the 
same. Endless repetition, in and out of season, 
has spoiled for us the freshness, the naivete, 
the simple romantic charm of the Gospels. We 
hear them read far too often and far too badly, 
and all repetition is anti-spiritual. When one 
returns to the Greek, it is like going into a 
garden of lilies out of some narrow and dark 

And to me, the pleasure is doubled by the 
reflection that it is extremely probable that we 
have the actual terms, the ipsissima verba, used 
by Christ. It was always supposed that Christ 
talked in Aramaic. Even Renan thought so. 
But now we know that the Galilean peasants, 
like the Irish peasants of our own day, were 
bilingual, and that Greek was the ordinai-y 
language of intercourse all over Palestine, as 
indeed all over the Eastern world. I never 
liked the idea that we knew of Christ's own 


words only through a translation of a transla- 
tion. It is a delight to me to think that as 
far as his conversation was concerned, Charmides 
might have listened to him, and Socrates 
reasoned with him, and Plato understood him : 
that he really said lyw ei/ii o Troi/i^v o KaXos, 
that when he thought of the lilies of the field 
and how they neither toil nor spin, his absolute 
expression was KaTafidOere to Kpiva tov aypov 
TTWs av^avci" ov kotti^ ovSe vrjOei, and that his 
last word when he cried out * my life has been 
completed, has reached its fulfilment, has been 
perfected,' was exactly as St. John tells us it 
was : TereAeo-Tat — no more. 

While in reading the Gospels — particularly 
that of St. John himself, or whatever early 
Gnostic took his name and mantle — I see the 
continual assertion of the imagination as the 
basis of all spiritual and material life, I see 
also that to Christ imagination was simply a 
form of love, and that to him love was lord 
in the fullest meaning of the phrase. Some 
six weeks ago I was allowed by the doctor 
to have white bread to eat instead of the 


coarse black or bro>vn bread of ordinary prison 
fare. It is a great delicacy. It will sound 
strange that dry bread could possibly be a 
delicacy to any one. To me it is so much so 
that at the close of each meal I carefully eat 
whatever crumbs may be left on my tin plate, 
or have fallen on the rough towel that one 
uses as a cloth so as not to soil one's table ; 
and I do so not from hunger — I get now quite 
sufficient food — but simply in order that nothing 
should be wasted of what is given to me. So 
one should look on love. 

Christ, like all fascinating personalities, had 
the power of not merely saying beautiful things 
himself, but of making other people say beauti- 
ful things to him; and I love the story St. 
Mark tells us about the Greek woman, who, 
when as a trial of her faith he said to her that 
he could not give her the bread of the children 
of Israel, answered him that the little dogs — 
(Kvi/a/)(a, * little dogs ' it should be rendered) — 
who are under the table eat of the crumbs that 
the children let fall. Most people live for love 
and admiration. But it is by love and admiration 


that we should live. If any love is shown us 
we should recognise that we are quite unworthy 
of it. Nobody is worthy to be loved. The fact 
that God loves man shows us that in the divine 
order of ideal things it is written that eternal 
love is to be given to what is eternally unworthy. 
Or if that phrase seems to be a bitter one to 
bear, let us say that every one is worthy of love, 
except him who thinks that he is. Love is a 
sacrament that should be taken kneeling, and 
Domine, non sum dignus should be on the lips and 
in the hearts of those who receive it. 

If ever I write again, in the sense of producing 
artistic work, there are just two subjects on which 
and through which I desire to express myself : 
one is * Christ as the precursor of the romantic 
movement in life ' : the other is * The artistic 
life considered in its relation to conduct.' The 
first is, of course, intensely fascinating, for I see 
in Christ not merely the essentials of the 
supreme romantic type, but all the accidents, 
the wilfulnesses even, of the romantic tempera- 
ment also. He was the first person who ever 
said to people that they should live ' flower-like 


lives.* He fixed the phrase. He took children 
as the type of what people should try to become. 
He held them up as examples to their elders, 
which I myself have always thought the chief 
use of children, if what is perfect should have a 
use. Dante describes the soul of a man as 
coming from the hand of God * weeping and 
laughing like a little child,' and Christ also saw 
that the soul of each one should be a guisa di 
fanciulla eke piatigendo e ridendo pargoleggia. He 
felt that life was changeful, fluid, active, and 
that to allow it to be stereotyped into any form 
was death. He saw that people should not be 
too serious over material, common interests ; 
that to be unpractical was to be a great thing : 
that one should not bother too much over affairs. 
The birds didn't, why should man? He is 
charming when he says, ' Take no thought for 
the morrow ; is not the soul more than meat ? is 
not the body more than raiment ? ' A Greek 
might have used the latter phrase. It is full of 
Greek feeling. But only Christ could have 
said both, and so summed up life perfectly 
for us. 


His morality is all sympathy, just what 
morality should be. If the only thing that he 
ever said had been, ' Her sins are forgiven her 
because she loved much,' it would have been 
worth while dying to have said it. His justice 
is all poetical justice, exactly what justice should 
be. The beggar goes to heaven because he 
has been unhappy. I cannot conceive a better 
reason for his being sent there. The people who 
work for an hour in the vineyard in the cool of 
the evening receive just as much reward as those 
who have toiled there all day long in the hot 
sun. Why shouldn't they? Probably no one 
deserved anything. Or perhaps they were a 
different kind of people. Christ had no patience 
with the dull lifeless mechanical systems that 
treat people as if they were things, and so treat 
everybody alike : for him there were no laws : 
there were exceptions merely, as if anybody, or 
anything, for that matter, was like aught else 
in the world ! 

Tliat which is the very keynote of romantic 
art was to him the proper basis of natural life. 
He saw no other basis. And when they brought 


him one taken in the very act of sin and showed 
him her sentence written in the hiw, and asked 
him what was to be done^ he wrote with his 
finger on the ground as though he did not hear 
them, and finally, when they pressed him again, 
looked up and said, ' Let him of you who has 
never sinned be the first to throw the stone at 
her.' It was worth while living to have said 

Like all poetical natures he loved ignorant 
people. He knew that in the soul of one who 
is ignorant there is always room for a great idea. 
But he could not stand stupid people, especially 
those who are made stupid by education : 
people who are full of opinions not one of which 
they even understand, a peculiarly modem type, 
summed up by Christ when he describes it as 
the type of one who has the key of knowledge, 
cannot use it himself, and does not allow other 
people to use it, though it may be made to open 
the gate of God's Kingdom. His chief war was 
against the Philistines. That is the war every 
child of light has to wage. Philistinism was the 
note of the age and community in which he 


lived. In their heavy inaccessibility to ideas, 
their dull respectability, their tedious orthodoxy, 
their worship of vulgar success, their entire 
preoccupation with the gross materialistic side of 
life, and their ridiculous estimate of themselves 
and their importance, the Jews of Jerusalem in 
Christ's day were the exact counterpart of the 
British Philistine of our own. Christ mocked at 
the ' whited sepulchre ' of respectability, and 
fixed that phrase for ever. He treated worldly 
success as a thing absolutely to be despised. He 
saw nothing in it at all. He looked on wealth 
as an encumbrance to a man. He would not 
hear of life being sacrificed to any system of 
thought or morals. He pointed out that forms 
and ceremonies were made for man, not man for 
forms and ceremonies. He took Sabbatarianism 
as a type of the things that should be set at 
nought. The cold philanthropies, the ostenta- 
tious public charities, the tedious formalisms so 
dear to the middle-class mind, he exposed with 
utter and relentless scorn. To us, what is termed 
orthodoxy is merely a facile unintelligent acquies- 
cence ; but to them, and in their hands, it was 


a terrible and paralysing tyranny. Christ swept 
it aside. He showed that the spirit alone was 
of value. He took a keen pleasure in pointing 
out to them that though they were always read- 
ing the law and the prophets, they had not 
really the smallest idea of what either of them 
meant. In opposition to their tithing of each 
separate day into the fixed routine of prescribed 
duties, as they tithe mint and rue, he preached 
the enormous importance of living completely 
for the moment. 

Those whom he saved from their sins are 
saved simply for beautiful moments in their 
lives. Mary Magdalen, when she sees Christ, 
breaks the rich vase of alabaster that one of her 
seven lovers had given her, and spills the odorous 
spices over his tired dusty feet, and for that one 
moment's sake sits for ever with Ruth and 
Beatrice in the tresses of the snow-white rose 
of Paradise. All that Christ says to us by the 
way of a little warning is that every moment 
should be beautiful, that the soul should always 
be ready for the coming of the bridegroom, 
always waiting for the voice of the lover. 


Philistinism being simply that side of man's 
nature that is not illumined by the imagination. 
He sees all the lovely influences of life as modes 
of light : the imagination itself is the world of 
light. The world is made by it, and yet the 
world cannot understand it : that is because the 
imagination is simply a manifestation of love, 
and it is love and the capacity for it that dis- 
tinguishes one human being from another. 

But it is when he deals with a sinner that 
Christ is most romantic, in the sense of most 
real. The world had always loved the saint as 
being the nearest possible approach to the 
perfection of God. Christ, through some divine 
instinct in him, seems to have always loved the 
sinner as being the nearest possible approach to 
the perfection of man. His primary desire was 
not to reform people, any more than his primary 
desire was to relieve suflering. To turn an 
interesting thief into a tedious honest man was 
not his aim. He would have thought little of 
the Prisoners' Aid Society and other modem 
movements of the kind. The conversion of a 
publican into a Pharisee would not have seemed 


to him a great achievement. But in a manner 
not yet understood of the world he regarded 
sin and suffering as being in themselves beauti- 
ful holy things and modes of perfection. 

It seems a very dangerous idea. It is — all 
great ideas are dangerous. That it was Christ's 
creed admits of no doubt. That it is the true 
creed I don't doubt myself. 

Of course the sinner must repent. But why ? 
Simply because otherwise he would be unable to 
realise what he had done. The moment of 
repentance is the moment of initiation. More 
than that : it is the means by which one alters 
one's past. The Greeks thought that impossible. 
They often say in their Gnomic aphorisms, ' Even 
the Gods cannot alter the past.' Christ showed 
that the commonest sinner could do it, that it 
was the one thing he could do. Christ, had he 
been asked, would have said — I feel quite certain 
about it — that the moment the prodigal son fell 
on his knees and wept, he made his having 
wasted his substance with harlots, his swine- 
herding and hungering for the husks they ate, 
beautiful and holy moments in his life. It is 


difficult for most people to grasp the idea. I 
dare say one has to go to prison to understand 
it. If so, it may be worth while going to prison. 
There is something so unique about Christ. 
Of course just as there are false dawns before 
the dawn itself, and winter days so full of sudden 
sunlight that they will cheat the wise crocus 
into squandering its gold before its time, and 
make some foolish bird call to its mate to build 
on barren boughs, so there were Christians before 
Christ. For that we should be grateful. The 
unfortunate thing is that there have been none 
since. I make one exception, St. Francis of 
AssisL But then God had given him at his 
birth the soul of a poet, as he himself when 
quite young had in mystical marriage taken 
poverty as his bride: and with the soul of a 
poet and the body of a beggar he found the 
way to perfection not difficult. He understood 
Christ, and so he became like him. We do not 
require the Liber Conformitatum to teach us 
that the life of St. Francis was the true ImitaUo 
Christi, a poem compared to which the book of 
that name is merely prose. 


Indeed^ that is the charm about Christ, when 
all is said : he is just like a work of art. He 
does not really teach one anything, but by being 
brought into his presence one becomes some- 
thing. And everybody is predestined to his 
presence. Once at least in his life each man 
walks with Christ to Emmaus. 

As regards the other subject, the Relation of 
the Artistic Life to Conduct, it will no doubt 
seem strange to you that I should select it. 
People point to Reading Gaol and say, 'That 
is where the artistic life leads a man.' Well, it 
might lead to worse places. The more mechani- 
cal people to whom life is a shrewd speculation 
depending on a careful calculation of ways and 
means, always know where they are going, and 
go there. They start with the ideal desire of 
being the parish beadle, and in whatever sphere 
they are placed they succeed in being the parish 
beadle and no more. A man whose desire is to 
be something separate from himself, to be a 
member of Parliament, or a successful grocer, or 
a prominent solicitor, or a judge, or something 
equally tedious, invariably succeeds in being 


what he wants to be. That is his punishment. 
Those who want a mask have to wear it. 

But with the dynamic forces of life, and those 
in whom those dynamic forces become incarnate, 
it is different. People whose desire is solely for 
self-realisation never know where they are going. 
They can't know. In one sense of the word it 
is of course necessary, as the Greek oracle said, 
to know oneself: that is the first achievement 
of knowledge. But to recognise that the soul 
of a man is unknowable, is the ultimate achieve- 
ment of wisdom. The final mystery is oneself. 
When one has weighed the sun in the balance, 
and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped 
out the seven heavens star by star, there still 
remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of 
his own soul ? When the son went out to look 
for his father's asses, he did not know that a 
man of God was waiting for him with the very 
chrism of coronation, and that his own soul was 
already the soul of a king. 

I hope to live long enough and to produce 
work of such a character that I shall be able at 
the end of my days to say, ' Yes ! this is just 


where the artistic life leads a man ! ' Two of 
the most perfect lives I have come across in my 
own experience are the lives of Verlaine and of 
Prince Kropotkin : both of them men who have 
passed years in prison : the first, the one Chris- 
tian poet since Dante ; the other, a man with a 
soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems 
coming out of Russia. And for the last seven or 
eight months, in spite of a succession of great 
troubles reaching me from the outside world 
almost without intermission, I have been placed 
in direct contact with a new spirit working in 
this prison tlirough man and things, that has 
helped me beyond any possibility of expression 
in words : so that while for the first year of my 
imprisonment I did nothing else, and can 
remember doing nothing else, but wring my 
hands in impotent despair, and say, 'What an 
ending, what an appalling ending!' now I try 
to say to myself, and sometimes when I am not 
torturing myself do really and sincerely say, 
* What a beginning, what a wonderful beginning !' 
It may really be so. It may become so. If it 
does I shall owe much to this new person- 


ality that has altered every man's life in this 

You may realise it when I say that had I been 
released last May, as I tried to be, I would have 
left this place loathing it and every official in it 
with a bitterness of hatred that would have 
poisoned my life. I have had a year longer of 
imprisonment, but humanity has been in the 
prison along with us all, and now when I go out 
I shall always remember great kindnesses that 
I have received here from almost everybody, 
and on the day of my release I shall give many 
thanks to many people, and ask to be remem- 
bered by them in turn. 

The prison style is absolutely and entirely 
wrong. I would give anything to be able to 
alter it when I go out. I intend to try. But 
there is nothing in the world so wrong but that 
the spirit of humanity, which is the spirit of 
love, the spirit of the Christ who is not in 
churches, may make it, if not right, at least 
possible to be borne without too much bitterness 
of heart. 

I know also that much is waiting for me 



outside that is very delightful, from what 
St. Francis of Assisi calls ' my brother the wind, 
and my sister the rain,* lovely things both of 
them, down to the shop-windows and sunsets of 
great cities. If I made a list of all that still 
remains to me, I don't know where I should 
stop: for, indeed, God made the world just as 
much for me as for any one else. Perhaps 1 
may go out with something that I had not got 
before. I need not tell you that to me reforma- 
tions in morals are as meaningless and vulgar as 
Reformations in theology. But while to propose 
to be a better man is a piece of unscientific cant, 
to have become a deeper man is the privilege of 
those who have suffered. And such I think I 
have become. 

If after I am free a friend of mine gave a 
feast, and did not invite me to it, I should not 
mind a bit. I can be perfectly happy by myself. 
With freedom, flowers, books, and the moon, 
who could not be perfectly happy? Besides, 
feasts are not for me any more. I have given 
too many to care about them. That side of life 
is over for me, very fortunately, 1 dare say. 


But if after I am free a friend of mine had a 
sorrow and refused to allow me to share it, I 
should feel it most bitterly. If he shut the 
doors of the house of mourning against me, I 
would come back again and again and beg to be 
admitted, so that I might share in what I was 
entitled to share in. If he thought me un- 
worthy, unfit to weep with him, I should feel it 
as the most poignant humiliation, as the most 
terrible mode in which disgrace could be 
inflicted on me. But that could not be. I 
have a right to share in sorrow, and he who can 
look at the loveliness of the world and share its 
sorrow, and realise something of the wonder of 
both, is in immediate contact with divine things, 
and has got as near to God's secret as any one 
can get. 

Perhaps there may come into my art also, no 
less than into my life, a still deeper note, one of 
greater unity of passion, and directness of im- 
pulse. Not width but intensity is the true aim 
of modern art. We are no longer in art 
concerned with the type. It is with the 
exception that we have to do. I cannot put my 


sufferings into any form they took, I need hardly 
say. Art only begins where Imitation ends, but 
something must come into my woric, of fuller 
memory of words perhaps, of richer cadences, of 
more curious effects, of simpler architectural 
order, of some aesthetic quality at any rate. 

When Marsyas was * torn from the scabbard 
of his limbs ' — delle vagitia dell membra sue, to 
use one of Dante's most terrible Tacitean 
phrases — ^he had no more song, the Greek said. 
Apollo had been victor. The lyre had van- 
quished the reed. But perhaps the Greeks 
were mistaken. I hear in much modern Art 
the cry of Marsyas. It is bitter in Baudelaire, 
sweet and plaintive in Lamartine, mystic in 
Verlaine. It is in the deferred resolutions of 
Chopin's music. It is in the discontent that 
haunts Burne-Jones's women. Even Matthew 
Arnold, whose song of Callicles tells of 'the 
triumph of the sweet persuasive lyre,' and the 
'famous final victory,' in such a clear note of 
lyrical beauty, has not a little of it; in the 
troubled undertone of doubt and distress that 
haunts his verses, neither Goethe nor Words- 


worth could help him, though he followed each 
in turn, and when he seeks to mourn for TkyrsU 
or to sing of the Scholar Gipsy, it is the reed 
that he has to take for the rendering of his 
strain. But whether or not the Phrygian Faun 
was silent, I cannot be. Expression is as neces- 
sary to me as leaf and blossoms are to the black 
branches of the trees that show themselves 
above the prison walls and are so restless in the 
wind. Between my art and the world there is 
now a wide gulf, but between art and myself 
there is none. I hope at least that there is none. 
To each of us different fates are meted out. 
My lot has been one of public infamy, of long 
imprisonment, of misery, of ruin, of disgrace, 
but I am not worthy of it — not yet, at any rate. 
I remember that I used to say that I thought I 
could bear a real tragedy if it came to me with 
purple pall and a mask of noble sorrow, but that 
.the dreadful thing about modernity was that it 
put tragedy into the raiment of comedy, so that 
the great realities seemed commonplace or 
grotesque or lacking in style. It is quite true 
about modernity. It has probably always been 


true about actual life. It is said that all martyr 
doms seemed mean to the looker on. The 
nineteenth century is no exception to the rule. 

Everything about my tragedy has been hide- 
ous, mean, repellent, lacking in style ; our very 
dress makes us grotesque. We are the zanies of 
sorrow. We are clowns whose hearts are broken. 
We are specially designed to appeal to the sense 
of humour. On November 13th, 1895, I was 
brought down here from London. From two 
o'clock till half-past two on that day I had to 
stand on the centre platform of Clapham Junction 
in convict dress, and handcuffed, for the world 
to look at. I had been taken out of the hospital 
ward without a moment's notice being given to 
me. Of all possible objects I was the most 
grotesque. When people saw me they laughed. 
Each train as it came up swelled the audience. 
Nothing could exceed their amusement. That 
was, of course, before they knew who I was. As 
soon as they had been informed they laughed 
still more. For half an hour I stood there in 
the grey November rain surrounded by a jeering 


For a year after that was done to me I wept 
every day at the same hour and for the same 
space of time. That is not such a tragic thing 
as possibly it sounds to you. To those who are 
in prison tears are a part of every day's experi- 
ence. A day in prison on which one does not 
weep is a day on which one's heart is hard, not 
a day on which one's heart is happy. 

Well, now I am really beginning to feel more 
regret for the people who laughed than for 
myself. Of course when they saw me I was not 
on my pedestal, I was in the pillory. But it is 
a very unimaginative nature that only cares for 
people on their pedestals. A pedestal may be 
a very unreal thing. A pillory is a terrific 
reality. They should have known also how to 
interpret sorrow better. I have said that behind 
sorrow there is always sorrow. It were wiser 
still to say that behind sorrow there is always a 
soul. And to mock at a soul in pain is a dread- 
ful thing. In the strangely simple economy of 
the world people only get what they give, and 
to those who have not enough imagination to 
penetrate the mere outward of things, and 


feel pity, what pity can be given save that of 

I write this account of the mode of my being 
transferred here simply that it should be realised 
how hard it has been for me to get anything out 
of my punishment but bitterness and despair. I 
have, however, to do it, and now and then I 
have moments of submission and acceptance. 
All the spring may be hidden in the single bud, 
and the low ground nest of the lark may hold 
the joy that is to herald the feet of many rose- 
red dawns. So perhaps whatever beauty of life 
8till remains to me is contained in some moment 
of surrender, abasement, and humiliation. I 
can, at any rate, merely proceed on the lines of 
my own development, and, accepting all that 
has happened to me, make myself worthy of it. 

People used to say of me that I was too 
individualistic. I must be far more of an 
individualist than ever I was. I must get far 
more out of myself than ever I got, and ask far 
less of the world than ever I asked. Indeed, 
my ruin came not from too great individualism 
of life, but from too little. The one disgraceful. 


unpardonable, and to all time contemptible 
action of my life was to allow myself to appeal 
to society for help and protection. To have 
made such an appeal would have been from the 
individualist point of view bad enough, but what 
excuse can there ever be put forward for having 
made it ? Of course once I had put into motion 
the forces of society, society turned on me and 
said, * Have you been living all this time in 
defiance of my laws, and do you now appeal to 
those laws for protection ? You shall have those 
laws exercised to the full. You shall abide by 
what you have appealed to.* The result is I am 
in gaol. Certainly no man ever fell so ignobly, 
and by such ignoble instruments, as I did. I 
say in Dorian Gray somewhere that 'A man 
cannot be too careful in the choice of his 
enemies.' I little thought that it was by a 
pariah I was to be made a pariah myself. 

The Philistine element in life is not the 
failure to understand art. Charming people, 
such as fishermen, shepherds, ploughboys, pea- 
sants and the like, know nothing about art, and 
are the very salt of the earth. He is the 


Philistine who upholds and aids the heavy, 
cumbrous, blind^ mechanical forces of society, 
and who does not recognise dynamic force 
when he meets it either in a man or a move- 

People thought it dreadful of me to have 
entertained at dinner the evil things of life, and 
to have found pleasure in their company. But 
then, from the point of view through which I, 
as an artist in life, approach them they were 
delightfully suggestive and stimulating. It was 
like feasting with panthers ; the danger was half 
the excitement. I used to feel as a snake- 
charmer must feel when he lures the cobra to 
stir from the painted cloth or reed basket that 
holds it and makes it spread its hood at his 
bidding and sway to and fro in the air as a plant 
sways restfully in a stream. They were to me 
the brightest of gilded snakes, their poison was 
part of their perfection. I did not know that 
when they were to strike at me it was to be at 
another's piping and at another's pay. I don't 
feel at all ashamed at having known them, they 
were intensely interesting; what I do feel 


ashamed of is the horrible Philistine atmosphere 
into which I was brought. My business as an 
artist was with Ariel, I set myself to wrestle 
with Caliban. Instead of making beautiful 
coloured musical things such as Salome and the 
Florentine Tragedy and La Sainte Courtisane, I 
forced myself to send long lawyer's letters and 
was constrained to appeal to the very things 
against which I had always protested. Clibbom 
and Atkins were wonderful in their infamous 
war against life. To entertain them was an 
astounding adventure ; Dumas pere, Cellini^ Goya, 
Edgar Allan Foe, or Baudelaire would have done 
just the same. What is loathsome to me is the 
memory of interminable visits paid by me to the 

solicitor H , when in the ghastly glare of a 

bleak room I would sit with a serious face tell- 
ing serious lies to a bald man till I really groaned 
and yawned with ennui. There is where I found 
myself, right in the centre of Philistia, away 
from everything that was beautiful or brilliant 
or wonderful or daring. I had come forward as 
the champion of respectability in conduct, of 
puritanism in life, and of morality in art. Foila 


ou menenl les mauvais chemins . . , but I can 
think with gratitude of those who by kindness 
without stint, devotion without limit, cheerful- 
ness and joy in giving have lightened ray black 
burden for me, have visited me again and again, 
have written to me beautiful and sympathetic 
letters, have managed my affairs for me, arranged 
my future life, and stood by me in the teeth of 
obloquy, taunt and open sneer, or insult even. 
I owe everything to them. The very books in 
ray cell are paid for by out of his pocket- 
money; from the same source are to come 
clothes for me when I am released. I am not 
ashamed of taking a thing that is given in love 
and affection ; I am proud of it. Yes, I think 

of my friends, such as More Adey, R , Robert 

Sherard, Frank Harris, Arthur Clifton, and what 
they have been to me, in giving me help, affec- 
tion, and sympathy. I think of every single 
person who has been kind to me in my prison 
life down to the warder who gives me a * Good- 
morning ' and a * Good-night ' (not one of his pre- 
scribed duties) down to the common policemen 
who, in their homely, rough way strove to com- 


fort me on ray journeys to and fro from the 
Bankruptcy Court under conditions of terrible 
mental distress — down to the poor thief who 
recognising me as we tramped round the yard 
at Wandsworth, whispered to me in the hoarse 
prison voice men get from long and compulsory 
silence : ' I am sorry for you ; it is harder for the 
likes of you than it is for the likes of us.' 

A great friend of mine — a friend of ten years* 
standing — came to see me some time ago, and 
told me that he did not believe a single word 
of what was said against me, and wished me to 
know that he considered me quite innocent, and 
the victim of a hideous plot. I burst into tears 
at what he said, and told him that while there 
was much amongst the definite charges that was 
quite untrue and transferred to me by revolting 
malice, still that my life had been full of per- 
verse pleasures, and that unless he accepted that 
as a fact about me and realised it to the full I 
could not possibly be friends with him any more, 
or ever be in his company. It was a terrible 
shock to him, but we are friends, and I have not 
got his friendship on false pretences. I have 


said to you to speak the truth is a painful 
thing. To be forced to tell lies is much 

I remember that as I was sitting in the Dock 
on the occasion of my last trial listening to Lock- 
wood's appalling denunciation of me — like a 
thing out of Tacitus, hke a passage in Dante, 
like one of Savonarola's indictments of the Popes 
of Rome — and being sickened with horror at 
what I heard, suddenly it occurred to me, How 
splendid it would be, if I was saying all this about 
myself. I saw then at once that what is said of 
a man is nothing. The point is, who says it. A 
man's very highest moment is, I have no doubt 
at all, when he kneels in the dust, and beats his 
breast, and tells all the sins of his life. 

Emotional forces, as I say somewhere in 
Intentions^ are as limited in extent and duration 
as the forces of physical energy. The little cup 
that is made to hold so much can hold so much 
and no more, though all the purple vats of Bur- 
gundy be filled with wine to the brim, and the 
treaders stand knee-deep in the gathered grapes 
of the stony vineyards of Spain. There is no 


error more common than that of thmking that 
those who are the causes or occasions of great 
tragedies share in the feelings suitable to the 
tragic mood : no error more fatal than expecting 
it of them. The martyr in his ' shirt of flame ' 
may be looking on the face of God, but to him 
who is piling the faggots or loosening the logs 
for the blast the whole scene is no more than 
the slaying of an ox is to the butcher, or the 
felling of a tree to the charcoal burner in the 
forest, or the fall of a flower to one who is 
mowing doMOi the grass with a scythe. Great 
passions are for the great of soul, and great 
events can be seen only by those who are on a 
level with them. We think we can have our 
emotions for nothing. We cannot. Even the 
finest and the most self-sacrificing emotions have 
to be paid for. Strangely enough, that is what 
makes them fine. The intellectual and emotional 
life of ordinary people is a very contemptible affair. 
Just as they borrow their ideas from a sort of 
circulating library of thought — the Zeitgeist of an 
age that has no soul and send them back soiled 
at the end of each week — so they always try to 


get their emotions on credit, or refuse to pay the 
bill when it comes in. We must pass out of that 
conception of life ; as soon as we have to pay for 
an emotion we shall know its quality and be 
the better for such knowledge. Remember that 
the sentimentalist is always a cynic at heart. 
Indeed sentimentality is merely the Bank-holi- 
day of cynicism. And delightful as cynicism is 
from its intellectual side, now that it has left the 
tub for the club, it never can be more than the 
perfect philosophy for a man who has no soul. 
It has its social value ; and to an artist all modes 
of expression are interesting, but in itself it is a 
poor affair, for to the true cynic nothing is ever 

• ••••• 

I know of nothing in all drama more incompar- 
able from the point of view of art, nothing more 
suggestive in its subtlety of observation, than 
Shakespeare's drawing of Rozencrantz and Guil- 
denstem. They are Hamlet's college friends. 
They have been his companions. They bring 
with them memories of pleasant days together. 
At the moment when they come across him in 


the play he is staggering under the weight of a 
burden intolerable to one of his temperament. 
The dead have come armed out of the grave to 
impose on him a mission at once too great and 
too mean for him. He is a dreamer, and he is 
called upon to act. He has the nature of the 
poet, and he is asked to grapple with the 
common complexity of cause and effect, with life 
in its practical realisation, of which he knows 
nothing, not with life in its ideal essence, of 
which he knows so much. He has no conception 
of what to do, and his folly is to feign folly. 
Brutus used madness as a cloak to conceal the 
sword of his purpose, the dagger of his will, but 
the Hamlet madness is a mere mask for the 
hiding of weakness. In the making of fancies 
and jests he sees a chance of delay. He keeps 
playing with action as an artist plays with a 
theory. He makes himself the spy ot his proper 
actions, and listening to his own words knows 
them to be but * words, words, words.' Instead 
of trying to be the hero of his own history, he 
seeks to be the spectator of his own tragedy. 
He disbelieves in everything, including himself 


and yet his doubt helps him not, as U comes 
not from scepticism but from a divided will. 

Of all this Guildenstem and Rosencrantz 
realise nothing. They bow and smirk and 
smile, and what the one says the other echoes 
with sickliest intonation. When, at last, by 
means of the play within the play, and the 
puppets in their dalliance, Hamlet ' catches the 
conscience ' of the King, and drives the wretched 
man in terror from his throne, Guildenstern and 
Rosencrantz see no more in his conduct than a 
rather painful breach of Court etiquette. That 
is as far as they can attain to in ' the contempla- 
tion of the spectacle of life with appropriate 
emotions.' They are close to his very secret 
and know nothing of it. Nor would there be 
any use in telling them. They are the little 
cups that can hold so much and no more. 
Towards the close it is suggested that, caught 
in a cunning spring set for another, they have 
met, or may meet, with a violent and sudden 
death. But a tragic ending of this kind, though 
touched by Hamlet's humour with something of 
the surprise and justice of comedy, is really not 


for such as they. They never die. Horatio, 
who in order to 'report Hamlet and his cause 
aright to the unsatisfied,' 

Absents him from felicity a while. 

And in this harsh world draws his breath in pain, 

dies, though not before an audience, and leaves no 
brother. But Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are 
as immortal as Angelo and Tartuffe, and should 
rank with them. They are what modem life 
has contributed to the antique ideal of friend- 
ship. He who writes a new De Amicitia must 
find a niche for them, and praise them in Tusculan 
prose. They are types fixed for all time. To 
censure them would show 'a lack of apprecia- 
tion.' They are merely out of their sphere : 
that is all. In sublimity of soul there is no con- 
tagion. High thoughts and high emotions are 
by their very existence isolated. 

I am to be released, if all goes well with me, 
towards the end of May, and hope to go at once 

to some little seaside village abroad with R 

and M . 

The sea, as Euripides says in one of his plays 


about Iphigeneia^ washes away the stains and 
wounds of the world. 

I hope to be at least a month with my friends, 
and to gain peace and balance, and a less troubled 
heart, and a sweeter mood ; and then if I feel 

able I shall arrange through R to go to 

some quiet foreign town like Bruges, whose 
grey houses and green canals and cool still ways 
had a charm for me years ago. I have a strange 
longing for the great simple primeval things, 
such as the sea, to me no less of a mother than 
the Earth. It seems to me that we all look at 
Nature too much, and live with her too little. I 
discern great sanity in the Greek attitude. 
They never chattered about sunsets, or discussed 
whether the shadows on the grass were really 
mauve or not. But they saw that the sea was 
for the swimmer, and the sand for the feet of the 
runner. They loved the trees for the shadow 
that they cast, and the forest for its silence at 
noon. The vineyard-dresser wreathed his hair 
with ivy that he might keep off the rays of the 
sun as he stooped over the young shoots, and for 
the artist and the athlete, the two types that 


Greece gave us, they plaited with garlands the 
leaves of the bitter laurel and of the wild 
parsley, which else had been of no service to 

We call ours a utilitarian age, and we do not 
know the uses of any single thing. We have 
forgotten that water can cleanse, and fire purify, 
and that the Earth is mother to us all. As a 
consequence our art is of the moon and plays 
with shadows, while Greek art is of the sun and 
deals directly with things. I feel sure that in 
elemental forces there is purification, and I 
want to go back to them and live in their 


• • • • 

It is not for nothing or to no purpose that 
in my lifelong cult of literatiu*e I have made 

Miser of sound and syllable, no less 
Than Midaa of his coinage. 

I must not be afraid of the past ; if people tell 
me that it is irrevocable I shall not believe 
them ; the past, the present, and the future are 
one moment in the sight of God, in whose sight 


we should try to live. Time and space, succes- 
sion and extension, are merely accidental condi- 
tions of thought ; the Imagination can transcend 
them and move in a free sphere of ideal exist- 
ences. Things also are in their essence of what 
we choose to make them ; a thing is according 
to the mode in which we look at it. 'Where 
others/ says Blake, *see but the dawn coming 
over the hill, I see the sons of God shouting for 
joy.' What seemed to the world and to myself 
my future I lost when I allowed myself to be 
taunted into taking action against Queensberry ; 
I dare say I lost it really long before that. What 
lies before me is my past. I have got to make 
myself look on that with different eyes, to make 
God look on it with different eyes. This I cannot 
do by ignoring it, or slighting it, or praising it, 
or denying it ; it is only to be done by accepting 
it as an inevitable part of the evolution of my 
life and character : by bowing my head to every- 
thing I have suffered. How far I am away from 
the true temper of soul, this letter in its chang- 
ing uncertain moods, its scorn and bitterness, its 
aspirations and its failure to realise those aspira- 


tions, shows quite clearly ; bat do not forget in 
what a terrible school I am sitting at my task, 
and incomplete, imperfect as I am, my friends 
have still much to gain. They came to me to 
learn the pleasure of life and the pleasure of art 
Perhaps I am chosen to teach them something 
more wonderful, the meaning of sorrow and its 

Of course to one so modem as I am, ' enfant 
de men si^cle/ merely to look at the world will 
be always lovely. I tremble with pleasure when 
I think that on the very day of my leaving prison 
both the laburnum and the lilac will be blooming 
in the gardens, and that I shall see the wind stir 
into restless beauty the swaying gold of the one, 
and make the other toss the pale purple of its 
plumes so that all the air shall be Arabia for me. 
Linnaeus fell on his knees and wept for joy when 
he saw for the first time the long heath of some 
English upland made yellow with the tawny 
aromatic blossoms of the common furze ; and I 
know that for me, to whom flowers are part of 
desire, there are tears waiting in the petals of 
some rose. It has always been so with me 


from my boyhood. There is not a single colour 
hidden away in the chalice of a flower, or the 
curve of a shell, to which, by some subtle 
sympathy with the very soul of things, my 
nature does not answer. Like Gautier, I have 
always been one of those 'pour qui le monde 
visible existe.' 

Still, 1 am conscious now that behind all this 
beauty, satisfying though it may be, there is 
some spirit hidden of which the painted forms 
and shapes are but modes of manifestation, and 
it is with this spirit that I desire to become in 
harmony. I have grown tired of the articulate 
utterances of men and things. The Mystical 
in Art, the Mystical in Life, the Mystical in 
Nature — this is what I am looking for. It 
is absolutely necessary for me to find it some- 

All trials are trials for one's life, just as all 
sentences are sentences of death ; and three 
times have I been tried. The first time I left 
the box to be arrested, the second time to be 
led back to the house of detention, the third 
time to pass into a prison for two years. Society, 


as we have constituted it, will have no place for 
me, has none to offer ; but Nature, whose sweet 
rains fall on unjust and just alike, will have clefts 
in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys 
in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She 
will hang the night with stars so that I may 
walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, 
and send the wind over my footprints so that 
none may track me to my hurt : she will cleanse 
me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make 
me whole. 

The foUovnriff letters are included by the courtety of 

the Editor and Proprietors of the ' Daily Chronicle,' 

to whom the copyright belongs 


L The Case of Warder Martin : Some 
Cruelties of Prison Life * 


SIR, — I learn with great regret, through the 
columns of your paper^ that the warder 
Martin, of Reading Prison, has been dismissed 
by the Prison Commissioners for having given 
some sweet biscuits to a little hungry child. I 
saw the three children myself on the Monday 
preceding my release. They had just bees 
convicted, and were standing in a row in the 
central hall in their prison dress, carrying their 
sheets under their arms previous to their being 
sent to the cells allotted to them. I happened 
to be passing along one of the galleries on my 
way to the reception room, where I was to have 

1 May 28, 1897. 



an interview with a friend. They were quite 
small children, the youngest — the one to whom 
the warder gave the biscuits — being a tiny little 
chap, for whom they had evidently been unable 
to find clothes small enough to fit. I had, of 
course, seen many children in prison during the 
two years during which I was myself confined. 
Wandsworth Prison especially contained always 
a large number of children. But the little child 
I saw on the afternoon of Monday the 17th, at 
Reading, was tinier than any one of them. I 
need not say how utterly distressed I was to 
see these children at Reading, for I knew the 
treatment in store for them. The cruelty that 
is practised by day and night on children in 
English prisons is incredible, except to those 
that have witnessed it and are aware of the 
brutality of the system. 

People nowadays do not understand what 
cruelty is. They regard it as a sort of terrible 
mediaeval passion, and connect it with the race 
of men like Eccelin da Romano, and others, to 
whom the deliberate infliction of pain gave a 
real madness of pleasure. But men of the 


stamp of Eccelin are merely abnormal types ot 
perverted individualism. Ordinary cruelty is 
simply stupidity. It is the entire want of 
imagination. It is the result in our days of 
stereotyped systems, of hard-and-fast rules, and 
of stupidity. Wherever there is centralisation 
there is stupidity. What is inhuman in modem 
life is officialism. Authority is as destructive to 
those who exercise it as it is to those on whom 
it is exercised. It is the Prison Board, and the 
system that it carries out, that is the primary 
soiu"ce of the cruelty that is exercised on a child 
in prison. The people who uphold the system 
have excellent intentions. Those who carry it 
out are humane in intention also. Responsi- 
bility is shifted on to the disciplinary regula- 
tions. It is supposed that because a thing is 
the rule it is right. 

The present treatment of children is terrible, 
primarily from people not understanding the 
peculiar psychology of a child's nature, A child 
can understand a punishment inflicted by an 
individual, such as a parent or guardian, and 
bear it with a certain amount of acquiescence. 


What it cannot understand is a punishment 
inflicted by society. It cannot realise what 
society is. With grown people it is, of course, 
the reverse. Those of us who are either in 
prison or have been sent there, can understand, 
and do understand, what that collective force 
called society means, and whatever we may 
think of its methods or claims, we can force 
ourselves to accept it. Punishment inflicted on 
us by an individual, on the other hand, is a 
thing that no grown person endures, or is 
expected to endure. 

The child consequently, being taken away 
from its parents by people whom it has never 
seen, and of whom it knows nothing, and find- 
ing itself in a lonely and unfamiliar cell, waited 
on by strange faces, and ordered about and 
punished by the representatives of a system 
that it cannot understand, becomes an immediate 
prey to the first and most prominent emotion 
produced by modern prison life — the emotion of 
terror. The terror of a child in prison is quite 
limitless. I remember once in Reading, as I 
was going out to exercise, seeing in the dimly 


lit cell right opposite my own a small boy. Two 
warders — not unkindly men — were talking to 
him, with some sternness apparently, or perhaps 
giving him some useful advice about his conduct. 
One was in the cell with him, the other was 
standing outside. The child's face wag like a 
white wedge of sheer terror. There was in his 
eyes the terror of a hunted animal. The next 
morning I heard him at breakfast-time crying, 
and calling to be let out. His cry was for his 
parents. From time to time I could hear the 
deep voice of the warder on duty telling him 
to keep quiet. Yet he was not even convicted 
of whatever little offence he had been charged 
with. He was simply on remand. That I knew 
by his wearing his own clothes, which seemed 
neat enough. He was, however, wearing prison 
socks and shoes. This showed that he was a 
very poor boy, whose own shoes, if he had any, 
were in a bad state. Justices and magistrates, 
an entirely ignorant class as a rule, often remand 
children for a week, and then perhaps remit 
whatever sentence they are entitled to pass. 
They call this 'not sending a child to prison.' 


It is, of course, a stupid view on their part. To 
a little child, whether he is in prison on remand 
or after conviction is not a subtlety of social 
position he can comprehend. To him the 
horrible thing is to be there at all. In the 
eyes of humanity it should be a hon-ible thing 
for him to be there at all. 

This terror that seizes and dominates the 
child, as it seizes the grown man also, is of 
course intensified beyond power of expression 
by the solitary cellular system of our prisons. 
Every child is confined to its cell for twenty- 
three hours out of the twenty-four. This is 
the appalling thing. To shut up a child in a 
dimly lit cell, for twenty-three hours out of the 
twenty-four, is an example of the cruelty of 
stupidity. If an individual, parent or guardian, 
did this to a child, he would be severely 
punished. The Society for the Prevention of 
Cruelty to Children would take the matter up 
at once. There would be on all hands the 
utmost detestation of whomsoever had been 
guilty of such cruelty. A heavy sentence 
would, undoubtedly, follow conviction. But 


our own actual society does worse itself, and 
to the child to be so treated by a strange 
abstract force, of whose claims it has no cognis- 
ance, is much worse than it would be to receive 
the same treatment from its father or mother, 
or some one it knew. The inhuman treatment 
of a child is always inhuman, by whomsoever it 
is inflicted. But inhuman treatment by society 
is to the child the more terrible because there 
is no appeal. A parent or guardian can be 
moved, and let out a child from the dark lonely 
room in which it is confined. But a warder 
cannot. Most warders are very fond of chil- 
dren. But the system prohibits them from 
rendering the child any assistance. Should 
they do so, as Warder Martin did, they are 

The second thing from which a child suffers 
in prison is hunger. The food that is given to 
it consists of a piece of usually badly-baked 
prison bread and a tin of water for breakfast 
at half-past seven. At twelve o'clock it gets 
dinner, composed of a tin of coarse Indian meal 
stirabout; and at half-past five it gets a piece 


of dry bread and a tin of water for its supper. 
This diet in the case of a strong grown man is 
always productive of illness of some kind^ chiefly, 
of course, diarrhoea, with its attendant weakness. 
In fact, in a big prison astringent medicines are 
served out regularly by the warders as a matter 
of course. In the case of a child, the child is, 
as a rule, incapable of eating the food at all. 
Any one who knows anything about children 
knows how easily a child's digestion is upset by 
a fit of crying, or trouble and mental distress of 
any kind. A child who has been crying all day 
long, and perhaps half the night, in a lonely 
dimly lit cell, and is preyed upon by terror, 
simply cannot eat food of this coarse, horrible 
kind. In the case of the little child to whom 
Warder Martin gave the biscuits, the child was 
crying with hunger on Tuesday morning, and 
utterly unable to eat the bread and water served 
to it for its breakfast. Martin went out after 
the breakfasts had been served, and bought the 
few sweet biscuits for the child rather than see 
it starving. It was a beautiful action on his 
part, and was so recognised by the child, who. 


utterly unconscious of the regulation of the 
Prison Boards told one of the senior warders 
how kind this junior warder had been to 
him. The result was, of course, a report and 
a dismissal. 

I know Martin extremely well, and I was 
under his charge for the last seven weeks of 
my imprisonment. On his appointment at 
Reading he had charge of Gallery C, in which 
I was confined, so I saw him constantly. I was 
struck by the singular kindness and humanity 
of the way in which he spoke to me and to the 
other prisoners. Kind words are much in 
prison, and a pleasant 'Good-morning' or 
'Good-evening' will make one as happy as 
one can be in a prison. He was always gentle 
and considerate. I happen to know another 
case in which he showed great kindness to 
one of the prisoners, and I have no hesitation 
in mentioning it. One of the most horrible 
things in prison is the badness of the sanitary 
arrangements. No prisoner is allowed under 
any circumstances to leave his cell after half- 
past five P.M. If, consequently, he is suffering 


from diarrhoea^ he has to use his cell as a latrine, 
and pass the night in a most fetid and unwhole- 
some atmosphere. Some days before my release 
Martin was going the rounds at half-past seven 
with one of the senior warders for the purpose 
of collecting the oakum and tools of the 
prisoners. A man just convicted, and suffering 
from violent diarrhoea in consequence of the 
food, as is always the case, asked the senior 
warder to allow him to empty the slops in his 
cell on account of the horrible odour of the cell 
and the possibility of illness again in the night. 
The senior warder refused absolutely; it was 
against the rules. The man had to pass the 
night in this dreadful condition. Martin, how- 
ever, rather than see this wretched man in such 
a loathsome predicament, said he would empty 
the man's slops himself, and did so. A warder 
emptying a prisoner's slops is, of course, against 
the rules, but Martin did this act of kindness 
to the man out of the simple humanity of 
his nature, and the man was naturally most 

As regards the children, a great deal has been 


Ulked and written lately about the contaminat- 
ing influence of prison on young children. 
What is said is quite true. A child is utterly 
contaminated by prison life. But the con- 
taminating influence is not that of the prisoners. 
It is that of the whole prison system — of the 
governor, the chaplain, the warders, the lonely 
cell, the isolation, the revolting food, the rules 
of the Prison Commissioners, the mode of 
discipline, as it is termed, of the life. Every 
care is taken to isolate a child from the sight 
even of all prisoners over sixteen years of age. 
Children sit behind a curtain in chapel, and are 
sent to take exercise in small sunless yards — 
sometimes a stone-yard, sometimes a yard at the 
back of the mills — rather than that they should 
see the elder prisoners at exercise. But the 
only really humanising influence in prison is the 
influence of the prisoners. Their cheerfulness 
under terrible circumstances, their sympathy for 
each other, their humility, their gentleness, 
their pleasant smiles of greeting when they 
meet each other, their complete acquiescence 
in their punishments, are all quite wonderful. 


and I myself learned many sound lessons from 
them. I am not proposing that the children 
should not sit behind a curtain in chapel, or 
that they should take exercise in a comer of 
the common yard. I am merely pointing out 
that the bad influence on children is not, and 
could never be, that of the prisoners, but is, 
and will always remain, that of the prison 
system itself. There is not a single man in 
Reading Gaol that would not gladly have done 
the three children's punishment for them. When 
I saw them last it was on the Tuesday following 
their conviction. I was taking exercise at half- 
past eleven with about twelve other men, as the 
three children passed near us^ in charge of a 
warder, from the damp, dreary stone-yard in 
which they had been at their exercise. I saw 
the greatest pity and sympathy in the eyes 
of my companions as they looked at them. 
Prisoners are, as a class, extremely kind and 
sympathetic to each other. Suffering and the 
community of suffering makes people kind, and 
day after day as I tramped the yard I used to 
feel with pleasure and comfort what Carlyle 


calls somewhere 'the silent rhythmic charm of 
human companionship.' In this^ as in all other 
things, philanthropists and people of that kind 
are astray. It is not the prisoners who need 
reformation. It is the prisons. 

Of course no child under fourteen years of 
age should be sent to prison at all. It is 
an absurdity, and, like many absurdities^ of 
absolutely tragic results. If, however, they 
are to be sent to prison, during the daytime 
they should be in a workshop or schoolroom 
with a warder. At night they should sleep in 
a dormitory, with a night-warder to look after 
them. They should be allowed exercise for at 
least three hours a day. The dark, badly 
ventilated, ill-smelling prison cells are dreadful 
for a child, dreadful indeed for any one. One 
is always breathing bad air in prison. The food 
given to children should consist of tea and 
bread-and-butter and soup. Prison soup is 
very good and wholesome. A resolution of 
the House of Commons could settle the treat- 
ment of children in half an hour. I hope you 
will use your influence to have this done. The 


way that children are treated at present is really 
an outrage on humanity and common sense. It 
comes from stupidity. 

Let me draw attention now to another terrible 
thing that goes on in English prisons, indeed 
in prisons all over the world where the system 
of silence and cellular confinement is practised. 
I refer to the large number of men who become 
insane or weak-minded in prison. In convict 
prisons this is, of course, quite common ; but in 
ordinary gaols also, such aa that I was confined 
in, it is to be found. 

About three months ago I noticed amongst 
the prisoners who took exercise with me a 
young man who seemed to me to be silly or 
half-witted. Every prison, of course, has its 
half-witted clients, who return again and again, 
and may be said to live in the prison. But this 
young man struck me as being more than 
usually half-witted on account of his silly grin 
and idiotic laughter to himself, and the peculiar 
restlessness of his eternally twitching hands. 
He was noticed by all the other prisoners on 
account of the strangeness of his conduct. 


From time to time he did not appear at 
exercise, which showed me that he was being 
punished by confinement to his cell. Finally, I 
discovered that he was under observation, and 
being watched night and day by warders. When 
he did appear at exercise he always seemed 
hysterical, and used to walk round crying or 
laughing. At chapel he had to sit right under 
the observation of two warders, who carefully 
watched him all the time. Sometimes he would 
bury his head in his hands, an offence against 
the chapel regulations, and his head would be 
immediately struck up by a warder so that he 
should keep his eyes fixed permanently in the 
direction of the Communion-table. Sometimes 
he would cry — not making any disturbance — 
but with tears streaming down his &ce and an 
hysterical throbbing in the throat. Sometimes 
he would grin idiot-like to himself and make 
faces. He was on more than one occasion sent 
out of chapel to his cell, and of course he was 
continually punished. As the bench on which 
I used to sit in chapel was directly behind the 
bench at the end of which this unfortunate man 


was placed I had full opportunity of observing 
him. I also saw him^ of course, at exercise 
continually, and I saw that he was becoming 
insane, and was being treated as if he was 

On Saturday week last I was in my cell at 
about one o'clock occupied in cleaning and 
polishing the tins I had been using for dinner. 
Suddenly I was startled by the prison silence 
being broken by the most horrible and revolting 
shrieks, or rather howls, for at first I thought 
some animal like a bull or a cow was being 
unskilfully slaughtered outside the prison walls. 
I soon realised, however, that the howls pro- 
ceeded from the basement of the prison, and I 
knew that some wretched man was being 
flogged. I need not say how hideous and 
terrible it was for me, and I began to wonder 
who it was who was being punished in this 
revolting manner. Suddenly it dawned upon 
me that they might be flogging this unfortunate 
lunatic. My feelings on the subject need not 
be chronicled; they have nothmg to do with 
the question. 


The next day, Sunday l6th, I saw the poor 
fellow at exercise, his weak, ugly, wretched face 
bloated by tears and hysteria almost beyond 
recognition. He walked in the centre ring 
along w^ith the old men, the beggars, and the 
lame people, so that I was able to observe him 
the whole time. It was my last Sunday in 
prison, a perfectly lovely day, the finest day 
we had had the whole year, and there, in the 
beautiful sunlight, walked this poor creature — 
made once in the image of God — grinning like 
an ape, and making with his hands the most 
fantastic gestures, as though he was playing in 
the air on some invisible stringed instrument, or 
arranging and dealing counters in some curious 
game. All the while these hysterical tears, 
without which none of us ever saw him, were 
making soiled runnels on his white swollen 
face. The hideous and deliberate grace of his 
gestures made him like an antic. He was 
a living grotesque. The other prisoners all 
watched him, and not one of them smiled. 
Everybody knew what had happened to him, 
and that he was bein^ driven insane — was 


insane already. After half an hour he was 
ordered in by the warder, and I suppose 
punished. At least he was not at exercise on 
Monday, though I think I caught sight of him 
at the comer of the stone-yard, walking in 
charge of a warder. 

On the Tuesday — my last day in prison — I 
saw him at exercise. He was worse than before, 
and again was sent in. Since then I know 
nothing of him, but I found out from one of 
the prisoners who walked with me at exercise 
that he had had twenty-four lashes in the cook- 
house on Saturday afternoon, by order of the 
visiting justices on the report of the doctor. 
The howls that had horrified us all were his. 

This man is undoubtedly becoming insane. 
Prison doctors have no knowledge of mental 
disease of any kind. Tliey are as a class 
ignorant men. The pathology of the mind is 
unknown to them. When a man grows insane, 
they treat hira as shamming. They have him 
punished again and again. Naturally the man 
becomes worse. When ordinary punishments 
are exhausted, the doctor reports the case to 


the justices. The result is flogging. Of course 
the flogging is not done with a cat-of-nine-tails. 
It is what is called birching. The instrument 
is a rod; but the result on the wretched half- 
witted man may be imagined. 

His number is, or was, A. 2.11. I also 
managed to find out his name. It is Prince. 
Something should be done at once for him. 
He is a soldier, and his sentence is one of 
court-martial. The term is six months. Three 
have yet to run. 

May I ask you to use your influence to have 
this case examined into, and to see that the 
lunatic prisoner is properly treated ? 

No report by the Medical Commissioners is of 
any avail. It is not to be trusted. The medical 
inspectors do not seem to understand the differ- 
ence between idiocy and lunacy — between the 
entire absence of a function or organ and the 
diseases of a function or organ, lliis man 
A. 2.11 will, I have no doubt, be able to tell 
his name, the nature of his offence, the day of 
the month, the date of the beginning and 
expiration of his sentence, and answer any 


ordinary simple question; but that his mind is 
diseased admits of no doubt. At present it is 
a horrible duel between himself and the doctor. 
The doctor is fighting for a theory. The man 
is fighting for his life. I am anxious that the 
man should win. But let the whole case be 
examined into by experts who understand brain- 
disease, and by people of humane feelings who 
have still some common sense and some pity. 
There is no reason that the sentimentalist should 
be asked to interfere. He always does harm. 

The case is a special instance of the cruelty 
inseparable from a stupid system, for the present 
Governor of Reading is a man of gentle and 
humane character, greatly liked and respected 
by all the prisoners. He was appointed in July 
last, and though he cannot alter the rules of the 
prison system he has altered the spirit in which 
they used to be carried out under his prede- 
cessor. He is very popular with the prisoners 
and with the warders. Indeed he has quite 
altered the whole tone of the prison life. Upon 
the other hand, the system is, of course, beyond 
his reach as far as altering its rules is concerned. 


I have no doubt that he sees daily much of 
what he knows to be unjust, stupid, and cruel. 
But his hands are tied. Of course I have no 
knowledge of his real views of the case of A. 
2.11, nor, indeed, of his views on our present 
system. I merely judge him by the complete 
change he brought about in Reading Prison. 
Under his predecessor the system was carried 
out with the greatest harshness and stupidity. — 
I remain. Sir, your obedient servant, 

Oscar Wilde 
if aj/ 27, 

II. Prison Reform* 


SI R, — I understand that the Home Secretary's 
Prison Reform Bill is to be read this week 
for the first or second time, and as your journal 
has been the one paper in England that has 
taken a real and vital interest in this important 
question, I hope that you will allow me, as one 
who has had long personal experience of life in 
an English gaol, to point out what reforms in 
our present stupid and barbarous system are 
urgently necessary. 

From a leading article that appeared in your 
columns about a week ago, I learn that the chief 
reform proposed is an increase in the number of 
inspectors and official visitors, that are to have 
access to our English prisons. 

Such a reform as this is entirely useless. 

1 March 24, 1898. 


The reason is extremely simple. The inspectors 
and justices of the peace that visit prisons come 
there for the purpose of seeing that the prison 
regulations are duly carried out. They come 
for no other purpose, nor have they any power, 
even if they had the desire, to alter a single 
clause in the regulations. No prisoner has ever 
had the smallest relief, or attention, or care from 
any of the official visitors. The visitors arrive 
not to help the prisoners, but to see that the 
rules are carried out. Their object in coming 
is to ensure the enforcement of a foolish and 
inhuman code. And, as they must have some 
occupation, they take very good care to do it. A 
prisoner w^ho has been allowed the smallest 
privilege dreads the arrival of the inspectors. 
And on the day of any prison inspection the 
prison officials are more than usually brutal to the 
prisoners. Their object is, of course, to show 
the splendid discipline they maintain. 

The necessary reforms are very simple. They 
concern the needs of the body and the needs 
of the mind of each unfortunate prisoner. 

With regard to the first, there are three 



permanent punishments authorised by law in 
English prisons : — 

1. Hunger. 

2. Insomnia. 

3. Disease. 

The food supplied to prisoners is entirely 
inadequate. Most of it is revolting in character. 
All of it is insufficient. Every prisoner suffers 
day and night from hunger. A certain amount 
of food is carefully weighed out ounce by ounce 
for each prisoner. It is just enough to sustain, 
not life exactly, but existence. But one is 
always racked by the pain and sickness of 

The result of the food — which in most cases 
consists of weak gruel, suet, and water — is 
disease in the form of incessant diarrhoea. This 
malady, which ultimately with most prisoners 
becomes a permanent disease, is a recognised 
institution in every prison. At Wandsworth 
Prison, for instance — where I was confined for 
two months, till I had to be carried into hospital, 
where I remained for another two months — the 
warders go round twice or three times a day 


with astringent medicines, which they serve out 
to the prisoners as a matter of course. After 
about a week of such treatment it is unnecessary 
to say that the medicine produces no effect at 
all. The wretched prisoner is then left a prey 
to the most weakening, depressing, and humili- 
ating malady that can be conceived : and if, as 
often happens, he fails, from physical weakness, 
to complete his required revolutions at the crank 
or the mill he is reported for idleness, and 
punished with the greatest severity and 
brutality. Nor is this all. 

Nothing can be worse than the sanitary 
arrangements of English prisons. In old days 
each cell was provided with a form of latrine. 
These latrines have now been suppressed. They 
exist no longer. A small tin vessel is supplied 
to each prisoner instead. Three times a day a 
prisoner is allowed to empty his slops. But he 
is not allowed to have access to the prison lava- 
tories, except during the one hour when he is at 
exercise. And after five o'clock in the evening 
he is not allowed to leave his cell under any 
pretence, or for any reason. A man suffering 


from diarrhoea is consequently placed in a posi- 
tion so loathsome that it is unnecessary to dwell 
on it, that it would be unseemly to dwell on it. 
The misery and tortures that prisoners go 
through in consequence of the revolting sanitary 
arrangements are quite indescribable. And the 
foul air of the prison cells, increased by a system 
of ventilation that is utterly ineffective, is so 
sickening and unwholesome that it is no uncom- 
mon thing for warders, when they come in the 
morning out of the fresh air and open and 
inspect each cell, to be violently sick. I have 
seen this myself on more than three occasions, 
and several of the warders have mentioned it to 
me as one of the disgusting things that their 
office entails on them. 

The food supplied to prisoners should be 
adequate and wholesome. It should not be of 
such a character as to produce the incessant 
diarrhoea that, at first a malady, becomes a per- 
manent disease. 

The sanitary arrangements in English prisons 
should be entirely altered. Every prisoner 
should be allowed to have access to the lava- 


tories when necessary, and to empty his slops 
when necessary. The present system of ventila- 
tion in each cell is utterly useless. The air 
comes through choked-up gratings, and through 
a small ventilator in the tiny barred window, 
which is far too small, and too badly con- 
structed, to admit any adequate amount of fresh 
air. One is only allowed out of one's cell for 
one hour out of the twenty-four that com- 
pose the long day, and so for twenty-three 
hours one is breathing the foulest possible 

With regard to the punishment of insomnia, 
it only exists in Chinese and in English prisons. 
In China it is inflicted by placing the prisoner in 
a small bamboo cage ; in England by means of 
the plank bed. The object of the plank bed 
is to produce insomnia. There is no other 
object in it, and it invariably succeeds. And 
even when one is subsequently allowed a hard 
mattress, as happens in the course of imprison- 
ment, one still suffers from insomnia. For sleep, 
like all wholesome things, is a habit. Every 
prisoner who has been on a plank bed suffers 


from insomnia. It is a revolting and ignorant 

With regard to the needs of the mind, I 
beg that you will allow me to say some- 

The present prison system seems almost to 
have for its aim the wrecking and the destruc- 
tion of the mental faculties. The production of 
insanity is, if not its object, certainly its result. 
That is a well-ascertained fact. Its causes are 
obvious. Deprived of books, of all human in- 
tercourse, isolated from every humane and 
humanising influence, condemned to eternal 
silence, robbed of all intercourse with the 
external world, treated like an unintelligent 
animal, brutalised below the level of any of the 
brute creation, the wretched man who is confined 
in an English prison can hardly escape becoming 
insane. I do not wish to dwell on these 
horrors; still less to excite any momentary 
sentimental interest in these matters. So I 
will merely, with your permission, point out 
what should be done. 

Every prisoner should have an adequate supply 


of good books. At present, during the first 
three months of imprisonment, one is allowed 
no books at all, except a Bible, Prayer-book, and 
hymn-book. After that one is allowed one book 
a week. That is not merely inadequate^ but 
the books that compose an ordinary prison 
library are perfectly useless. They consist 
chiefly of third-rate, badly written, religious 
books, so-called, written apparently for children, 
and utterly unsuitable for children or for any one 
else. Prisoners should be encouraged to read, 
and should have whatever books they want, and 
the books should be well chosen. At present 
the selection of books is made by the prison 

Under the present system a prisoner is only 
allowed to see his friends four times a year, for 
twenty minutes each time. This is quite wrong. 
A prisoner should be allowed to see his friends 
once a month, and for a reasonable time. The 
mode at present in vogue of exhibiting a 
prisoner to his friends should be altered. 
Under the present system the prisoner is either 
locked up in a large iron cage or in a large 


wooden box, with a small aperture, covered with 
wire netting, through which he is allowed to 
peer. His friends are placed in a similar cage, 
some three or four feet distant, and two warders 
stand between to listen to, and, if they wish, 
stop or interrupt the conversation, such as it may 
be. I propose that a prisoner should be allowed 
to see his relatives or friends in a room. The 
present regulations are inexpressibly revolting 
and harassing. A visit from (our) relatives or 
friends is to every prisoner an intensification of 
humiliation and mental distress. Many prisoners, 
rather than support such an ordeal, refuse to see 
their friends at all. And I cannot say I am sur- 
prised. When one sees one's solicitor, one sees 
him in a room with a glass door, on the other 
side of which stands the warder. When a man 
sees his wife and children, or his parents, or his 
friends, he should be allowed the same privilege. 
To be exhibited, like an ape in a cage, to people 
who are fond of one, and of whom one is fond, 
is a needless and horrible degradation. 

Every prisoner should be allowed to write 
and receive a letter at least once a month. At 


present one is allowed to write only four times 
a year. This is quite inadequate. One of the 
tragedies of prison life is that it turns a man's 
heart to stone. The feelings of natural affec- 
tion, like all other feelings, require to be fed. 
They die easily of inanition. A brief letter, 
four times a year, is not enough to keep alive 
the gentler and more humane affections by 
which ultimately the nature is kept sensitive to 
any fine or beautiful influences that may heal a 
wrecked and ruined life. 

The habit of mutilating and expurgating 
prisoners' letters should be stopped. At pre- 
sent, if a prisoner in a letter makes any com- 
plaint of the prison system, that portion of his 
letter is cut out with a pair of scissors. If, 
upon the other hand, he makes any complaint 
when he speaks to his friends through the bars 
of the cage, or the aperture of the wooden 
box, he is brutalised by the warders, and re- 
ported for punishment every week till his next 
visit comes round, by which time he is expected 
to have learned, not wisdom, but cunning, and 
one always learns that. It is one of the few 


things that one does learn in prison. Fortun- 
ately, the other things are, in some instances, of 
higher import. 

If I may trespass for a little longer, may I say 
this ? You suggested in your leading article 
that no prison chaplain should be allowed to 
have any care or employment outside the priscm 
itself. But this is a matter of no moment. 
The prison chaplains are entirely useless. They 
are, as a class, well-meaning, but foolish, indeed 
silly, men. They are of no help to any prisoner. 
Once every six weeks or so a key turns in the 
lock of one's cell door, and the chaplain enters. 
One stands, of course, at attention. He asks 
one whether one has been reading the Bible. 
One answers ' Yes ' or ' No,' as the case may be. 
He then quotes a few texts, and goes out and 
locks the door. Sometimes he leaves a tract. 

The officials who should not be allowed to 
hold any employment outside the prison, or to 
have any private practice, are the prison doctors. 
At present the prison doctors have usually, if 
not always, a large private practice, and hold 
appointments in other institutions. The conse- 


qiience is that the health of the prisoners is 
entirely neglected, and the sanitary condition 
of the prison entirely overlooked. As a class, I 
regard, and have always from my earliest youth 
regarded, doctors as by far the most humane 
profession in the community. But I must make 
an exception for prison doctors. They are, as 
far as I came across them, and from what I saw 
of them in hospital and elsewhere, brutal in 
manner, coarse in temperament, and utterly in- 
different to the health of the prisoners or their 
comfort. If prison doctors were prohibited from 
private practice they would be compelled to 
take some interest in the health and sanitary 
condition of the people under their charge. I 
have tried to indicate in my letter a few of the 
reforms necessary to our English prison system. 
They are simple, practical, and humane. They 
are, of course, only a beginning. But it is time 
that a beginning should be made, and it can 
only be started by a strong pressure of public 
opinion formularised in your powerful paper, and 
fostered by it. 

But to make even these reforms effectual, 


much has to be done. And the first, and per- 
haps the most difficult task is to humanise the 
governors of prisons, to civilise the warders and 
to Christianise the chaplains. — Yours, etc.. 

The Author of the ' Ballad 

OF Reading Gaol ' 
March 23. 

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